As the nation's prescription drug use continues to increase, so does the amount of unused prescription pills collecting dust in household medicine cabinets.
"The big problem is that these pills are a huge target for home burglaries," said Del Norte sheriff's Deputy Richard Donaldson, who helped coordinate the local component of a national prescription drug take-back event Saturday.
About 247 pounds of drugs were collected in Del Norte through the efforts of Donaldson and two Sheriff's Office Explorers, Kaity Malone, 15, and Makenzy Williams, 17.
"We're very proud of them. They did an excellent job - not just in the pill drive, but as Explorers, period," Donaldson said.
The prescription drugs will be taken to Windsor, Calif., where they will be destroyed.
The program, funded by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, is intended to provided a safe and convenient way to dispose of prescription drugs, keeping them off the streets.
"Most people don't know how to dispose of these drugs in a sanitary manner," Donaldson said, adding that prescription drugs are often flushed down the toilet, presenting a serious problem for local water supplies.
The program also aims to educate the public about the potential for abuse of medications.
"Twice as many Americans regularly abused prescription drugs than the number of those who regularly used cocaine, hallucinogens, heroin, and inhalants combined," according to the DEA's website. "That same study revealed more than 70 percent of people abusing prescription pain relievers got them through friends or relatives, a statistic that includes raiding the family medicine cabinet."
The DEA's drug take-back program is relatively new, with Saturday's event being the seventh so far.The agency has been conducting two drug take-back days a year since 2010.
The April 2013 take-back day netted 742,497 pounds of prescription medications at more than 5,829 locations manned by 4,312 state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies that partnered with DEA on the event.
More than 3 million pounds of prescription drugs have been taken out of circulation since the program started.
The DEA's take-back events are a significant piece of the White House's prescription drug abuse prevention strategy released in 2011.
Before an amendment was made to the Controlled Substances Act in 2010, there was no legal way of transferring possession of controlled substance medications from users to other individuals for disposal, according to the DEA.