Prescription drug overdoses on the rise

BENTON COUNTY. Wash. -- An alarming statistic has the Benton County coroner worried and it could get worse.

In the past five years, Benton County has seen a steady increase in those dying from drug overdoses. And as lethal drugs are often seen as "safe," there's more concern than ever.

Chief Deputy Coroner Michelle Genack crunches the most recent numbers for causes of death. As the list stacks up, a startling trend emerged: The amount of people dying from drug overdoses has been on the rise, a statistic that frankly disgusts her.

"It's stupid! Because they're preventable," she says.

Since 2010, people with "overdose" listed as their cause of death has almost doubled.

What has traditionally been a single-digit statistic just six years ago has grown to almost two dozen a year in Benton County alone.

But coroners say it's not street drugs that are to blame. As many as 95 percent of these deaths are from easily attained prescription pills.

"It's easier to get prescription pain medication. A lot of people sell it on the street. Some people are on chronic pain medication and they'll sell their medication for extra money," Genack says.

Half of these deaths are people under 40 - a good portion of them under 25.

"Whether it's peer pressure or just to get high, maybe a combination of both, these kids are dying," Genack added.

Lizza Cazier takes her kids to Lawrence Scott Park to play. She and her family moved to the Tri-Cities about when the trend started. She fears for her children's future.

Reporter: "Does it bug you that this number keeps going up?"
Lizza: "Oh, for sure. I worry about my boys and the society they have to grow up in for sure. That's why it's important for me to be a stay-at-home mom."

She agrees that drug overdoses are preventable, and she says the only way to make it stop starts in the home.

"These people don't have a good support system or a good family background," she says.

It's a trend the coroners say they can only hope goes down.

Even though the population of Benton County went up five percent over the last five years, coroners say it's not necessarily the driving force behind the increased deaths. They attribute the widespread access of prescription drugs to be the main culprit.