Michael Jackson's shocking accidental death in June was only the latest in a string of high-profile fatalities from multiple prescription medications. Actor Heath Ledger and the model and sex symbol Anna Nicole Smith died recently in comparable circumstances. But celebrities aren't the only abusers of painkillers, sedatives and stimulants. Prescription drug abuse has become a growing problem in the United States, even as illegal drug use has gradually declined. In 2005, for example, more people ages 45 to 54 died from drug overdoses — mostly prescription painkillers — than in car crashes. Many people believe prescription drugs are safer than illegal drugs, so changing public attitudes is a challenge. Also, many prescription narcotics are being diverted to dangerous, recreational use, but doctors, dentists and nurses are poorly informed about the potential for abuse. Meanwhile, government drug-education programs focus on illegal drugs while largely ignoring the risks of prescription abuse.