Figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that drug overdose in the U.S. has quadrupled since 1999 with over 16,000 people dying of opioid overdose in 2013 alone. More than 8,000 also died because of heroin overdose in the same year marking a three-fold increase from 2010 numbers.

In a bid to curtail the epidemic of drug overdose, the CDC announced on Friday, Sept. 4, a $20 million program called Prescription Drug Overdose: Prevention for States, which aims to help states put an end to the epidemic.

The program will involve 16 states which will be given funding and expertise required to help prevent deaths due to prescription opioid overdose. CDC selected Arizona, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, California, Ohio, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Utah, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin to be recipients of the program's funds based on a competitive application process.

Over the next four years, these states will receive annual awards ranging from $750,000 to $1 million per year depending on fund availability to promote drug overdose prevention. Secretary Sylvia Burwell said that states are important partners in the fight against drug overdose deaths and the funding could help in combatting the problem.

"With this funding, states can improve their ability to track the problem, work with insurers to help providers make informed prescribing decisions, and take action to combat this epidemic," Burwell said.

Experts have been urging physicians to be cautious when giving opioid prescription to patients since opioid addiction often starts with an innocuous visit to the doctor. Doctors are advised to be particularly cautious with patients who smoke and those with history of substance abuse.

In one study led by W. Michael Hooten, from Mayo Clinic, the researchers looked at the medical records of 293 patients who were given short-term prescription for opiates and found that one in four of these patients continued using the painkiller longer than 90 days.

"If you went back and found the people who were long-term users then, I can guarantee you that many of them became addicted," said opioid addiction expert Andrew Kolodny. "I would not be surprised if some of them wound up dying of opioid overdoses."

CDC director Tom Frieden described the epidemic as costly and tragic but noted that this can be reversed through safer prescribing practices, real-time tracking programs and rapid response. He likewise said that reversing the problem calls for programs in all of the 50 states.

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