WESTMORELAND COUNTY (KDKA) – The statistic is shocking: drug overdoses kill more people in Westmoreland County than any other manner of death, besides natural causes.

It’s not street drugs, it’s prescription drugs found in the cabinet.

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Officials say it’s a problem that usually starts with a legitimate medical reason and spirals out of control.

“We’re going off the charts again,” said Wesmoreland County Coroner Ken Bacha. “I mean, last year, 2012, was our highest we’ve ever had in this county, which was 78 total overdose deaths.”

But just when it seems it couldn’t get any worse with drug overdose deaths in Westmoreland County in 2013, it did.

“We’re approximating it at 92,” Bacha said.

How are these people essentially — and unwittingly in many cases — killing themselves?

It used to be heroin – not anymore.

“We’re now about two-thirds prescription medications and one-third heroin,” Bacha said.

Product availability is the reason for the switch.

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“We’re a pain-free, pill-happy society,” Bacha said. “We consume the largest portion of Vicodin that’s available in the world. A lot of these people who ended up with prescription overdoses, heroin overdoses, started with a legitimate medical reason.”

That injury they may have starts to go away, but the addiction doesn’t.

Of the overdose deaths, Westmoreland County says 68 percent were men, 97 percent were white and the majority of deaths were from people between the ages of 41 and 60.

“We’ve had overdoes as young as 15,” Bacha said. “And our oldest was 72. Our drug overdose deaths now … is the No.1 cause of unnatural death in this county.”

But those are 2013 statistics. The hope is that the problem will improve in 2014.

However, it’s not gotten off to a good start. So far, as we reach the half-way point of January, seven people have died of drug overdoses in Westmoreland County – mostly due to prescription drugs.

“These aren’t just case numbers to me anymore,” Bacha said. “These end up being people I know and I know their families, they’re friends of our family.”

Solving the problem is not easy, but when it comes to prescription drugs, there is at least a starting point.

There are boxes set up around the county for unused or expired prescriptions.

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