Opioids have a stranglehold on parts of the U.S. And where addictive pain medicines are the drug of choice, clinics for addiction treatment often follow.

Sometime these are doctor's offices where patients can get painkiller-replacement drugs, such as Subutex and Suboxone.

Cancer patients shopping on federal and state insurance marketplaces often find it difficult to determine whether their drugs are covered and how much they will pay for them, the advocacy arm of the American Cancer Society says in a report that also calls on regulators to restrict how much insurers can charge patients for medications.

Prescription drug use is rising across the United States. More people are taking medications and they're taking more of them.

A study published Tuesday by researchers at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows that 59 percent of adults used a prescription drug in a 30-day period. That's up from just 50 percent when the survey was last conducted a decade earlier.

With his ambulance sirens blaring, Edmund Hassan speeds to a home in South Boston after getting a call that someone there is unconscious. He's deputy superintendent of Boston Emergency Medical Services, and he suspects an opioid overdose. These days, he says, his workers administer Narcan, the drug that reverses that kind of overdose, roughly three times in every eight-hour shift.

Program manager Linda Kruger prepares for the opening of the Evergreen Treatment Service clinic in Hoquiam.
KUOW Photo/Elizabeth Jenkins

Ross Reynolds talks with Molly Carney, executive director of Evergreen Treatment Services, about a pilot program that will expand access for heroin and opioid treatment.

The Drug Enforcement Administration is partnering with police and fire departments and pharmacies Saturday to relaunch its drug take-back program, which encourages people to rummage through their homes and hand over unused prescriptions.

"Lots and lots of folks have prescription pills that have either expired or they no longer need, and in the wrong hands, those are poison," acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg told NPR in an interview. "So the purpose of the program is to get those out of medicine cabinets. We can dispose of them anonymously and safely."

When Rehab Interrupts Your Senior Year

Sep 9, 2015
Anna Konsmo (left) and Payton Curtis in 2014 before their senior year of high school. They stayed close while Curtis spent part of her senior year in a rehab facility.
Courtesy of Payton Curtis

Anna Konsmo and best friend Payton Curtis are talking and laughing. They laugh together a lot.

Konsmo and Curtis, both 18, treasure that relationship even more now: Curtis spent part of her senior high school year in rehab for alcohol and drug abuse.

The latest numbers show that deaths from heroin-related overdose more than tripled nationally between 2002 and 2013. Opiate addiction touches every demographic: white, black, Hispanic, rural, suburban and urban.

Proposed solutions nationally include more government funding for treatment, tougher penalties for dealers, and proactive interventions to stop people before they start.

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.

Shilo Murphy at the People's Harm Reduction Alliance in Seattle's University District.
KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery

The day Shilo Murphy found his friend dead from an overdose, he resolved to change his life.

He wouldn’t quit drugs. He liked how heroin made him feel. But he wanted to improve the lives of drug users.

"My experience of having a close friend die was that I wasn't going to take it anymore,” Murphy told KUOW’s Ross Reynolds. “It being the conditions we lived under, the discrimination we felt, the constant violence towards us.”

Boats crowd Lake Washington during a past Seafair weekend.
Flickr Photo/missyleone (CC BY 2.0)

David Hyde speaks with Beth Ebel, a professor of pediatrics and a doctor with the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, about the culture around drinking and boating and how we can change it. 

Jennifer Nugent and her three kids are throwing a big, blue ball around in the small living room of their rental home.

The kids are happy, but Nugent isn't. She planned to raise them in a place with much more room to play.

And she was. That is, until she learned that home was uninhabitable.

Two years ago, she and her husband bought a country home in the small central Indiana town of Mooresville.

"It was blue and it had a lot of potential for us to add on," she says. "We really, really wanted that house."

Marcie Sillman talks with Jeremy Bradford, an early participant in Seattle's Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program, about his journey from a homeless addict to a small business owner.

drugs pills health

Marcie Sillman talks with University of Washington pain specialist Jane Ballantyne about evolving attitudes towards prescription opiates. 

King County Heroin Deaths Up 58 Percent In 2014

Jun 18, 2015
Found in Seattle's Belltown area in 2008.
Flickr photo/Elan Ruskin (CC BY-NC 2.0)

A spike in deaths from heroin use in King County has alarmed health experts and prompted warnings that the trend will continue unless efforts to treat addiction are ramped up.

The report on drug trends from the University of Washington's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute says 156 people died with heroin in their systems in 2014, a 58 percent increase over the year before.