In a recent government study, it was found that most people who abuse prescription painkillers don't actually purchase them through drug dealers—instead, they get them for free from friends and family.

The study revealed that as low as 15 percent of prescription painkiller abusers actually purchase the drugs from dealers or other strangers. 1 in 4 admitted to doctor shopping, getting different doctors to fill out a number of prescriptions, while another 25 percent said they just got the harmful pills like OxyContin or Vicodin from people they knew for free.

While painkiller abuse in the US has remained consistent over the years—1 in 20 people aged 12 and older will take painkillers without need—deaths from overdoses are on the rise.

Previous CDC data show overdose deaths involving these drugs more than tripled from 1999 to 2010, with more than 16,000 deaths that year. By contrast, overdose deaths that involved heroin and cocaine totaled less than 8,000, and deaths that involved often-abused prescription drugs that include anti-anxiety medication totaled about 6,500.

After New York-based actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a heroin overdose last month, the New York Times reported that prescription painkillers are often a gateway to heroin, and can be dangerous triggers for previous heroin abusers.

The pills set off heroin craving in recovering addicts, doctors say, every bit as well as they soothe withdrawal in current users.

According to the Center for Disease Control in 2011, "Enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for a month." The original CDC study didn't state whether these giving friends had prescriptions of their own or got the drugs by other means, but users are being urged to stop sharing and "turn in any leftovers to designated drop-off sites."

[Image via AP]