Rising concern over prescription drug overdoses in the Piedmont

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Prescription drug-related overdose deaths are on the rise in the Piedmont, and authorities fear the trend is just beginning.

Experts say in 1999, there were just over 200 accidental overdose deaths related to prescription drugs in North Carolina. As of 2010, that number had risen to over 1,000.

In Forsyth County in 2011, authorities say, 42 people accidentally overdosed on prescription drugs, resulting in death. That's compared to eight in 2001. In Guilford County, 45 people died from accidentally overdosing on prescription drugs in 2012, compared to 25 in 2010.

"There was no pleasure to it, no high. It was just survival," said Michael Bailey, a recovering addict and Winston-Salem resident. Bailey fell into a deep addiction, spending all of his money on prescription drugs. "It was awful. It was me sitting in a little one room apartment with my power off."

Bailey had a family and a full-time job as an instructor at a community college.

"I lost that. I divorced, lost contact with my family almost completely," said Bailey.

Bailey's addiction started off with alcoholism, but then turned to prescription drugs.

"There were no lack of doctors willing to help me. Of course I never gave them… I gave them my version of things," said Bailey.

When his prescriptions would run out, he would take to the streets, buying the pills off people who had a month's supply, didn't use the drugs, and sold them as a source of income.

"If you didn't have it, I didn't have it for more than a day or two. I would be so sick that, that I couldn't get out of bed, I couldn't work, couldn't do anything," he said.

Authorities are trying to curb the trend with things like pill drops where they take unused or unwanted medications from citizens and properly dispose of them.

"It protects kids, it protects senior citizens, and anybody else that might find some unused or unwanted prescription medication," said Lt. Tryone Phelps, of the Winston-Salem Police Department. "Anyone that has prescription medication that don't belong to them, it's illegal, and also it's unsafe."

Bailey wants people to know, that it's not weak people who succumb to addiction. Many times, it's people who don't realize they have a problem until it's too late.

"So many people are in denial about even having a problem; they just think, 'Well that's my medication, it comes from a doctor, I need it'," said Bailey.

The only county with a higher amount of accidental prescription drug overdoses resulting in death in 2012 was Mecklenburg County, with 62.

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