OGDEN — A federal study of painkiller use found Utah led the nation in nonmedical use of prescription drugs in 2004 and 2005, with 6.5 percent of the population using drugs without a doctor's order.

The study was released last week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and shows a troubling trend of prescription painkiller use by kids in junior high and high school, Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force agent Randy Lythgoe said.

"It's becoming an accepted thing to do in high school, because they (students) don't associate danger with it," he said.

The study showed 7.88 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds and 13.49 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds used prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons. The number was just 4.32 percent for those over age 25.

Some young people take drugs from the prescriptions of family members or buy them on the street, where drugs like Lortab sell for $3 to $5 per pill, Lythgoe said. Others may be "doctor shopping," seeing multiple physicians to obtain multiple prescriptions, he said.

The number of Utahns dying from prescription drug overdoses is also rising, said Christy Porucznik, an epidemiologist at the Utah Department of Health.

Per capita, Utah has one of the highest rates in the country.

In fact, in 2005 prescription drug overdoses accounted for more than twice the number of deaths from illegal drugs, although some had obtained the prescription drugs illegally, she said. Preliminary data from 2006 shows 20 percent of overdoses were caused by prescribable narcotic painkillers.

Porucznik describes the average Utahn who dies from a drug overdose as 40 years old, overweight and taking a prescription drug.

"People have the idea that it is people who are not part of (mainstream) society, but it is," she said.

Data also shows Utah's retail supply of prescription painkillers is higher than the U.S. average, Porucznik said.