The nation has been forcibly awakened to the dangers of prescription painkillers. If not through the tragic death of a loved one or friend, then through the death of heralded actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Countless people are addicted to painkillers, and some of them eventually turn to heroin for a cheaper high. Hoffman died of an apparent heroin overdose after struggling with a painkiller addiction in the past year.

Attention to the problem of painkiller abuse has been growing. The Buffalo News reported in a groundbreaking 2011 series “Rx for Danger” about the meteoric rise in the abuse of painkillers and their prevalence in Western New York. That reporting helped lead the New York State Legislature to pass laws providing for electronic monitoring of prescription drugs in New York.

The prescription painkiller addiction has gotten harder and more expensive to satisfy. Those hooked on the drugs are turning to a less expensive fix, heroin. Except this isn’t the heroin of years past. This stuff is much stronger and often laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opiate used to ease the pain of cancer patients that can, in its pure form, cause instant death.

Reducing addictions means stopping painkiller abuse before it starts. Without that addiction, demand for illegal painkillers goes down, as does the need for cheaper heroin.

Educating people, especially the young, about the dangers of painkillers is a step in the right direction. Western New York is fortunate to have a business community that has joined forces to increase public awareness about prescription painkiller addiction. BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York formed a community outreach initiative called involving business, schools, parents and students.

Visit the website to learn about the program and to see the more than 50 partners backing the effort.

The organization’s $1.2 million public awareness campaign began last fall. Sometimes it takes being forcibly awakened to face a problem.