Last year, a man walked into a Long Island pharmacy and murdered four people for 11,000 hydrocodone pills – an opioid used to manufacture powerful painkillers such as Vicodin.

It was June, and 17-year-old pharmaceutical clerk Jennifer Mejia was set to graduate high school in a few days. Instead, she was buried in her prom dress.

The other victims? A young woman who was engaged to be married, an elderly man picking up medication for his ailing wife, and a 45-year-old pharmacist who was covering his colleague’s shift so he could spend Father’s Day with his children.

Prosecutors have since called this crime “the most cold-blooded robbery-homicide in Suffolk County history,” but sadly, it isn’t rare. Violent pharmacy robberies have been occurring all over America due to the ever-growing and extremely dangerous prescription drug abuse epidemic that, until recently, was considered too taboo to talk about openly. It’s not just troubled celebrities who are affected, either — prescription medications kill nearly 30,000 Americans each year.

A quick Google search will reveal hundreds of websites and news stories on this topic. Public forums where mothers trade heart-wrenching stories about losing their children to pills have become commonplace, and accompanying photos of once lively, healthy Americans serve as eerie reminders of our friends, neighbors and relatives who lost their way due to prescription drugs.

Recently, I met in California with dozens of parents who have lost children to this horrible epidemic. Their stories range from a high school athlete who died after trying a painkiller for the first time to another who used pills for years before finally turning to heroin for a cheaper high.

We’ve been told for years to talk to our children about how to say no to street drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. As parents, we’ve searched our kids’ rooms and backpacks, smelled their breath and added drug education to school curriculums. But no one prepared us for how dangerous the seemingly safe orange bottles doled out to us by trusted physicians would eventually become.

What’s scary about this epidemic — which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call the leading cause of accidental death in America — is that in many cases, the very drugs that are killing people were recommended and prescribed to them by doctors they trusted.

These powerful narcotics were originally intended for patients in the most severe pain, and yet they are being prescribed in extremely high doses for minor ailments such as knee soreness or wisdom teeth removal. Just last year, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) took back more than 995,000 pounds of pills from people who turned in their old and unused medications.

I commend the DEA on the success of these “take-back days,” but the question is, why are this many pills flooding the marketplace to begin with?

As Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, I am doing all I can to investigate and reverse this American tragedy. I have held hearings on the topic and have met with agents from the DEA and FDA. I’ve met with attorneys general, doctors, parents, other members of Congress and have spoken out on TV.

Finally, I’ve introduced two pieces of legislation that aim to educate prescribers and decrease the amount of OxyContin prescribed to patients. Yet as a mother, it pains and saddens me to see this happening all around us.

I believe that through awareness, hard work and persistence, we can save thousands of lives and spare millions of American families from the heartache of addiction. No child should be buried in her prom dress at the hand of a man desperate for a pill.

Mary Bono Mack
Representative of California’s 45th
Congressional District