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Safely dispose of unused and expired medication through the DEA's drug take-back program

September 24, 2010 | 10:37 am

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration wants your unused or expired prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicine.

On Saturday, the DEA wants people to clean out their medicine cabinets of unused or expired prescription painkillers and other prescribed and over-the-counter medicine and drop them off at designated sites around the country for safe disposal.

The national prescription drug "Take-Back" program is free and anonymous and will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tablets and pills will be accepted, but not intravenous solutions and needles.

Most Southern California law enforcement agencies are participating. The DEA has a site listing agencies participating nationwide (click here to find a collection site).

The program comes at a time of soaring rates of addiction to prescription painkillers, especially among young people. The trend began in the late 1990s, when Oxycontin, a powerful time-released opiate, was first marketed, say police and drug-rehabilitation counselors.
In 2007, Oxycontin's manufacturer, Connecticut-based Purdue Frederick Co., pleaded guilty to a federal charge of "misbranding with intent to defraud or mislead" related to an aggressive promotional campaign claiming that the drug was less addictive than other prescription opiates. Salesmen urged doctors to prescribe Oxycontin for moderate and chronic pain. Because they are addictive, powerful opiate painkillers are usually prescribed only for the most severe pain.

Purdue Frederick also paid one of the largest fines in the history of the pharmaceutical industry: $634.5 million, $34.5 million of which was paid by its top three executives, who were placed on probation.

Since then, robust street markets for Oxycontin and less-powerful prescription opiates have emerged in many U.S. communities as addiction rates and overdoses have risen, particularly among middle- and upper-class youths, according to treatment centers and police.

In addition, youths often switch from prescription opiates, which can run up to $80 a pill on the street, to cheaper and more powerful heroin, often black-tar heroin from Mexico.

"It's reaching epidemic proportions," said Greg Dorst, director of Cedar House Rehabilitation Center, an adult drug treatment center in San Bernardino County where half the patients are opiate addicts. Youths "begin their drug use with prescription drugs, often times out of their parents' medicine cabinets."

-- Sam Quinones