Ann and Bruce Kinkade discovered a network of doctors and pharmacies that fueled the addiction that killed their daughter. More Americans now die each year from prescription drug overdoses than from cocaine, heroin and other illegal drugs. Weekend Review editor Gary Rosen discusses the problem with WSJ staff writer Thomas Catan.Jaclyn Kinkade, a 23-year-old doctor's-office receptionist and occasional model, was a casualty of America's No. 1 drug menace when she overdosed and died, alone, in a tumbledown clapboard house in Dunnellon, Fla.
The drugs that killed her didn't come from the Colombian jungles or an Afghan poppy field. Two of the three drugs found in her system were sold to Ms. Kinkade, legally, at Walgreen Co. WAG -0.35% and CVS Caremark CVS -0.20% shops, the two biggest U.S. pharmacies. Both prescription drugs found in her body were made in the U.S.—the oxycodone in Elizabeth, N.J., by a company being acquired by generic-drug giant Watson Pharmaceuticals Inc., WPI -0.51% and the methadone in Hobart, N.Y., by Covidien Ltd., COV -0.96% another major manufacturer. Every stage of their distribution was government-regulated. In addition, Ms. Kinkade had small amounts of methamphetamine in her system when she died.
The U.S. spends about $15 billion a year fighting illegal drugs, often on foreign soil. But America's deadliest drug epidemic begins and ends at home. More than 15,000 Americans now die annually after overdosing on prescription painkillers called opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—more than from heroin, cocaine and all other illegal drugs combined.
Rising opioid abuse means that drug overdoses are now the single largest cause of accidental death in America. They surpassed traffic accidents in 2009, the most recent CDC data available.
Paradoxically, the legality of prescription painkillers makes their abuse harder to tackle. There is no Pablo Escobar to capture or kill. Authorities must contend with an influential lobby of industry representatives and doctors who argue against more restrictions, saying they would harm legitimate patients. And lawmakers have been reluctant to have the federal government track Americans' prescriptions, leaving states to piece together a patchy, fragmented response.
Ms. Kinkade's final days, and the path of the drugs that killed her, were reconstructed from medical and prescription records, police files and interviews. Many records were assembled by Ms. Kinkade's father and stepmother.
Shuffling through the documents at their living-room table, Bruce Kinkade, a garage-door salesman, and his wife, Ann, said they don't wish to absolve their daughter of responsibility. "We're not naive and want to say she was a perfect angel," said Ann Kinkade, Jaclyn's stepmother.