About 120 people a day are dying from unintentional drug overdoses, according the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

An increase in prescriptions for painkillers, like Oxycontin, is one reason. Another is that when opioids aren’t available, people often turn to heroin because it is cheaper, stronger any easier to obtain these days.

The problem appears worse in some communities, but it’s not often clear why.

Ten years ago, Chris Young was crushed by a car he was working under. “He was crushed accordion style,” says his wife Lesley.

The accident left Young, 45, almost completely paralyzed and in a wheelchair. He does have some sensation in his legs, but that is also where he experiences acute pain.

“It feels like electric shocks, like lightening bolts going down my legs and when it gets down to the bottom it feels like someone is driving a big metal spike up my legs,” says Young.

Dawn Brown in a trailer for the documentary 'A New High.'

Jeannie Yandel talks with Dawn Brown, a participant in Seattle Union Gospel Mission's program that takes a team of homeless people who are also struggling with addiction up Mount Rainier. Brown's experience is chronicled in a new documentary, "A New High."

In a community center just south of Los Angeles, upwards of 50 people pack into a room to offer each other words of comfort. Most of them are moms, and they've been through a lot.

At Solace, a support group for family members of those suffering from addiction, many of the attendees have watched a child under 30 die of a fatal drug overdose — heroin, or opioids like Oxycontin or Vicodin that are considered gateway drugs to heroin.

Drug-caused deaths in King County from 1997 to 2014.
University of Washington's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute

Ross Reynolds talks with Dennis Donovan, director of the University of Washington's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, about the loss of detox beds in King County and what that means for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. 

Kimberley Enyart was never interested in doing recreational drugs. But then she was in a car accident — and her doctor prescribed a powerful opiate for the pain.

"It just would put me off in la-la land, and make me feel better," she says. "I loved it. I loved that high."

When Enyart's prescription ran out, she did whatever she could to convince other doctors that she needed more. Eventually, she moved on to dentists.

"I even had two back teeth pulled over it," she says.

Thom Pasiecki, 24, says that after he lost his job in Connecticut and broke up with his girlfriend, he realized he needed help with an online gaming addiction.
KUOW photo/Jamala Henderson

Thom Piasecki is on day 19 of digital rehab at a rural retreat in eastern King County.

His daily routine is mostly outside, walking on dirt paths through forested areas, feeding chickens and doves, and checking on goldfish in a tub outside. 

File photo of cocaine.
Flickr Photo/DBDurietz (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Marcie Sillman talks with Washington State University neuroscientist Barbara Sorg about her new research into addiction and memory.

In murder mystery novels, when the hero, a private detective or homicide cop, drops by a late-night Alcoholics Anonymous meeting to stave off a sudden craving for a beer or two or 20, it's usually in some dingy church basement or dilapidated storefront on the seedier side of town. There's a pot of burnt coffee and a few stale doughnuts on a back table.

The Center for Students in Recovery at the University of Texas could not be more different.

Flickr Photo/MDMA (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Ross Reynolds talks with Howard Pellett, the facilitator of an Alcoholics Anonymous alternative called SMART Recovery. Pellett describes his own experience with alcoholism and SMART's approach to addiction recovery.

This story originally aired August 21, 2014.

Is Sugar More Addictive Than Cocaine?

Jan 8, 2015

The 2015 Dietary Guideline Advisory Committee just released new recommendations to limit added sugars to 10 percent of daily calories. Right now, Americans are eating more sugar than ever before — on average, about 160 pounds a year.

It's a tradition as old as New Year's: making resolutions. We will not smoke, or sojourn with the bucket of mint chocolate chip. In fact, we will resist sweets generally, including the bowl of M&M's that our co-worker has helpfully positioned on the aisle corner of his desk. There will be exercise, and the learning of a new language.

It is resolved.

So what does science know about translating our resolve into actual changes in behavior? The answer to this question brings us — strangely enough — to a story about heroin use in Vietnam.

KUOW/John Ryan photo

Eddy Mahon says the Aloha Inn saved his life.

Each day, thousands of people speed by the run-down old motel on Highway 99 just south of Seattle's Aurora Bridge. It's no longer a motel. Now it's a place where homeless people can stay for up to two years and get help while they try to get back on their feet; there's a long waiting list to get in. Mahon manages the Aloha.

He told his story to KUOW's John Ryan.

Ross Reynolds talks with Dennis Donovan, director of University of Washington's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, about why it's so hard to determine what recovery strategies work best for overcoming addiction.

Murray Carpenter's book, "Caffeinated."

Ross Reynolds speaks with journalist Murray Carpenter about his book, “Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us."

The book takes a closer look at the common drug we take for granted on a daily basis.