Prescription drug addiction is no longer a peripheral publicpolicy issue, as displayed by President Obama's call for Americansto do more to prevent loved ones from falling victim topainkillers.

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“More Americans die every year from drug overdoses than they doin car crashes,” Obama said in his weekly address on Saturday. “Andmost of those deaths aren’t due to drugs like cocaine orheroin--but rather prescription drugs.”

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Read: Double-digit cost hike predicted for pharmacydrugs

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While many experts are now skeptical of the once-popular claimthat marijuana is a "gateway" to hard drugs, few dispute evidencethat legal substances, such as Oxycontin, often serve as a firststep to heroin addiction.

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“Many prescription pain medications belong to the same class ofdrug as heroin,” Obama said. “In fact, four in five heroin usersstarted out by misusing prescription drugs."

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In an effort to reduce abuse, the president called on Americansto get rid of unneeded prescription pills that loved ones could gettheir hands on.

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Not only is prescription drug addiction a tragic public healthcrisis, but it takes a heavy toll on taxpayers in the form of lawenforcement and prison costs.

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Reforming corrections in the U.S., home of the largest prisonpopulation in the world, has become a legacy-defining goal forObama, who recently became the first sitting president to visit afederal prison.

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“Rather than keep spending billions of taxpayer dollars onneedlessly long prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, wecould save money and get better outcomes by getting treatment tothose who need it,” Obama said.

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Americans have become aware of the dangers of prescription drugaddiction in recent years. A survey two years ago found thatmore than 50 percent of Americansbelieve that the phenomenon is a major public health concern andthat doctors should do more to limit the meds they give out.

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Only 4 percent of survey respondents said that it was theresponsibility of law enforcement to deal with the problem,suggesting that the "lock em up" mentality is ceding to a moretreatment-based philosophy on drug abuse.

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Read: FDA warns of 2 drugs with similarnames

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