In cities and towns across the country, young people are abusing and dying from prescription narcotic painkillers, and fentanyl and methadone are among the most deadly. Scarcely a week goes by without a story about someone's son or daughter either dying from a fentanyl or methadone overdose, or falling victim to a dangerous prescription drug addiction.

Deaths from all prescription drugs in the U.S. have doubled in the past decade, and overdoses of prescription narcotic painkillers are at the top of the list. Narcotics such as methadone, hydrocodone, oxycodone, OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, Lortab and the fentanyl drugs commonly marketed as the Duragesic skin patch and the Actiq 'lollipop' -- are at the forefront of the rise in prescription drug addiction as well as overdose deaths.

The highly addictive opioid painkiller methadone is often cited as the most deadly narcotic painkiller, because of the soaring numbers of overdose deaths attributed to the drug. Its widespread availability as a 'replacement therapy' drug for tens of thousands of heroin and morphine addicts, and its relatively low cost, has made it easily obtainable almost everywhere.

Methadone is a leading killer because it persists in the body long after the 'high' has worn off. Inexperienced users who take more methadone to regain intoxication can suffer a narcotic overdose -- slowed heart rate and respiration, leading to death.

But for the sheer danger of instant overdose, even on its first use, the opioid painkiller fentanyl is far and away the most unpredictably dangerous killer. Fentanyl is at least 80 times more potent than morphine, and even using fentanyl legitimately with a prescription to treat chronic, debilitating pain can lead not only to dependence and prescription drug addiction, but to sudden overdose and death.

Like methadone, fentanyl is an 'opioid' -- a synthetic form of alkaloid chemicals, called opiates, found in opium poppies and used to make morphine and codeine. Both methadone and fentanyl play a large role in physical dependence leading to prescription drug addiction and possible injury and death among legitimate pain sufferers, people who are already under the care of a doctor and have at least received some instructions in safe use.

But what about those who are looking for an intoxicating high, and know almost nothing about the dangers of these drugs? These are the teenagers and young adults, America's future with their lives ahead of them, who are most at risk for prescription drug addiction and dependence, overdose and death.

Duragesic patches, which are worn externally to release the fentanyl slowly through the skin, are purposely cut and crushed by addicts to extract the drug, who then risk their lives by taking huge amounts of it all at once. Meanwhile, the patches have undergone several recalls after it was discovered thousands of them were faulty, and leaked excessive amounts of the drug causing serious overdoses among legitimate patients.

Johnson & Johnson, the makers of the Duragesic patch, recently lost a third law suit concerning a death attributed to fentanyl. The company was ordered by a jury in Chicago to pay $16.5 million in damages to the family of a Cicero, Ill., woman who was prescribed Duragesic to reduce the constant pain of a neurological condition called reflex sympathetic dystrophy. Earlier suits for deaths due to prescriptions of fentanyl patches include a $13.3 million award to the family of a Florida woman who, after undergoing back surgery, died while wearing the patch. And $5.5 million was awarded to the father of a 28-year-old man who died in 2003 while wearing the patch.

Actiq, made by drug company Cephalon, is fentanyl in the form of a lollipop, intended for cancer patients suffering chronic pain. The opioid is released into the system by holding the lollipop in the mouth. The problem here is that although it was only approved for cancer patients, thousands of 'off-label' prescriptions for headaches, back pain and other pain problems -- as many as 95 percent of all Actiq prescriptions, according to a recent study -- have put this deadly drug in the hands of people for whom the dangers far outweigh the benefits.

And because it's as friendly-looking as a child's candy, younger people -- even high school kids -- are abusing the drug and dying before they have a chance at life.

For anyone who is dependent on narcotic painkillers, the only sensible decision is a medical drug detox program to safely get through the withdrawal. And if addicted, it should be followed by a rigorous drug rehab program to fully regain a drug-free life.