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By the end of 2002, Penny, Kellogg and Thomas were dead.
According to the county Medical Examiner's Office, they died from accidental overdoses of prescription drugs, making them part of what federal officials say is a disturbing shift in the nation's drug abuse patterns.
John Walters, director of the White House Office of Drug Control Policy, said prescription drug abuse is being taken so seriously that for the first time the White House has set aside money - more than 0 million - specifically for prescription drug education in the next fiscal year.
The White House will spend 8 million on illegal drug abuse education during that period.
Antidepressants such as Paxil, Zoloft and Celexa also are of concern to authorities but have not been linked to as many deaths.
From Walters' office two blocks from the White House to the streets of San Diego come stories of lives altered by prescription drug abuse.
The misuse of painkillers now accounts for 30 percent of emergency-room visits, a number that has increased steadily over the past decade.
Oxycodone, often sold as Oxy Contin, is usually prescribed for severe, chronic pain, such as that associated with cancer. Hydrocodone is now the nation's most abused prescription drug.
"The power and the risk of death (from prescription drugs) pose a different kind of problem than we have seen," Walters said.
The pill problem took center stage on Capitol Hill Thursday when the U. Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee met to begin searching for new ways to monitor prescription drugs.
In June, Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed his personal physician, Dr.
Gary Malakoff, in June after it was disclosed he had abused prescription drugs.