As a ten year old boy at a secluded summer camp in the mountains of New Hampshire, I never imagined that my bunk mate would go on to become a heroin addict at the age of fifteen. When he told me about his addiction problems last summer, I was shocked that the kid who always had a smile on his face was privately struggling with such a physically and mentally degrading illness. He explained how his addiction had begun with an oxycodone prescription earlier in the year. In a matter of months, he had gone from taking his prescribed dosage for pain management to shooting heroin just to get high.

My friend was one of many adolescents struggling with addiction in the United States. Each year, thousands of teenagers are prescribed opioids for pain treatment. From sports injuries to chronic discomfort, doctors have become much too comfortable giving full prescriptions of powerful drugs to young and vulnerable kids.

The problem only expands when parents blindly trust doctors and aren’t informed of the dangerous and addictive power of the pills prescribed to their children. One study found that one in four patients who receive long term opioid prescriptions ends up fighting an addiction. In 2014 alone, almost two million Americans were dependent on prescription opioids. Despite these numbers, power hungry pharmaceutical companies continue pushing new opioid medications to doctors all over the country, putting corporate profit and success above the health of thousands. Without proper education, numerous patients will continue to become dependent on the very substances that were designed to help them.

In the past fifteen years, the annual number of opioid related deaths has quadrupled. More than 183,000 individuals died from opioid related overdoses between 1999 and 2015, and data from the Center for Disease Control disclosed that 40,000 people died in 2015, due to opioid-classified drugs such as heroin, fentanyl, Vicodin, and Oxycontin. Every day the number of victims grows, making it increasingly important for our nation to focus and directly confront this challenge.

One step would be to direct medical schools to include a greater focus on avoiding over-prescription. Another would be for schools to integrate opioid safety and awareness programs. Additionally, pharmaceutical companies must begin tightening regulations on distribution of opioid medications. Our nation must implement many advancements in order to triumph in the battle against opioids, and thanks to the introduction of new opioid fighting strategies from former President Obama and an investment in overdose reversal drugs in police forces, awareness and action have been on the rise both locally and nationally.

These measures show signs of a future filled with progress for the U.S., but these developments will not happen on their own. Is it our responsibility to use our voices against the pharmaceutical industry, to educate our friends and family about addiction, and to be alert and proactive with prescription opioids.