Experts: Better communication needed
Accidental prescription drug overdoses is "the only epidemic that I know that has been recognized by the DEA, FDA, CDC and the White House Office of Drug Control," McLellan said.
Meyers and McLellan believe the key to combating accidental deaths related to prescription drugs is creating a better dialogue among doctors, patients and pharmacies.
"When someone is given prednisone, a steroid commonly used to treat inflammatory diseases, they are given very specific instructions," said Meyers. "They are very direct about what will happen if the patient misuses it. You don't see that with pain medication.
"Maybe if we did a better job with how we communicate the effects of prescription medications when you don't take them the way they are prescribed or if you mix other substances with them, maybe we wouldn't have the number of people who are in crisis," she added.
After co-founding the Treatment Research Institute, McLellan worked as the deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy for the Obama administration. One of his main tasks was combating the epidemic of prescription drug abuse.
McLellan says he believes everyone throughout the supply chain of opioids needs to take greater responsibility.
This means pharmaceutical companies would carefully monitor and control the supply they produce, he said. Doctors would be more rigorous with patient screening -- including, possibly, urinalysis exams before issuing or extending a prescription.
Patients would be more careful about the storing and disposal of their medications along with how they take them. And, most importantly, pharmacies would keep a watchful eye on all of the substances each of their customers takes, he said.
"You don't want to stop the use of opioids, because that would be stupid, but you need better management," he said. "Information exchange is the main thing; pharmacies have to know what everyone is getting prescribed."
Meanwhile, people such as Pete Jackson are left to deal with the aftermath of prescription drug abuse.
After his daughter's death, Jackson began researching what he could do to prevent a similar tragedy from striking another household. In 2007, Jackson joined forces with other bereaved families to create Advocates for the Reform of Prescription Opioids, a group dedicated to advancing the dialogue around prescription drugs and the legislation concerning them.
"It's just so frustrating when you're operating in an arena where there's always a presumption of guilt," Jackson said. "This isn't about (Emily) being guilty or what kind of person she was. It happens that she was the most wonderful person I've ever known. It's really about how we can address this problem."
For more information on prescription drug abuse, visit MedicineAbuseProject.org