When Bucks County teens get hooked on drugs, they don't start with heroin or "bath salts." They're much more likely to start using drugs they can find right in their own homes.
"A lot of it starts in the home medicine cabinet. They’re not connecting with a dealer at first," said Bev Haberle, director of The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania.
"I think people are less concerned about prescription drug abuse than illegal drug abuse. But they should be worried about both," Haberle said.
A rising awareness of how easily today's powerful medications can be abused has fueled a new nationwide effort to collect and dispose of unused prescription drugs. Called the National Take-Back Initiative, the program is coordinated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and implemented in towns across the country by local police departments and other agencies.
"There are two reasons to safely dispose of prescription and over the counter drugs that are no longer needed or expired," according to the Council Rock Coalition for Healthy Youth.
"Rx and over-the-counter drugs are being abused at alarming rates and accidental overdoses have resulted in increased emergency room visits. Removing these drugs from our medicine cabinets reduces access to them, resulting in a reduction of abuse/misuse and possible death from overdose."
This Saturday, the DEA is sponsoring another prescription drug take back event nationwide, and many municipalities throughout Bucks County are participating.
The way it works is pretty simple.
People who have prescription medications in their homes that they are no longer taking can bring those drugs to a drop off point for safe disposal. No questions are asked.
Products accepted include prescription and over-the-counter solid drugs, such as pills and capsules; liquid medications; inhalers; nasal sprays; creams; ointments; pet medications.
Products not accepted include intravenous or injectible solutions and illegal drugs such as marijuana or methamphetamine.
The collection runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29.
Drop off unused drugs locally at Thriftway Shop 'N Bag, located at 1025 2nd Street Pike in Richboro.
There are many other locations nearby including spots in Warminster, Newtown and Upper and Lower Southampton. See a full list of participating locations in the PDF section of this article.
According to the DEA, these drives have been very successful.
An April collection netted 552,161 pounds of prescription drugs gathered from more than 5,650 towns across the county, the agency said. Nearly 4,300 state and local law enforcement agencies assisted with the drive, the DEA said.
In total, the agency's four Take Back events collected more than 1.5 million pounds—nearly 775 tons—of drugs.
Here in Bucks County, a collection in November 2010 netted 628 pounds of pills and 680 pounds of of liquid medication.
At the time, the county's district attorney said it was a great way to help stop the flow of drugs to young people.
"Over the past several years, prescription medications have emerged as the new wave of abused drugs," Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler said in a statement then. "In-demand drugs sell on the street for as much as $40 for one pill."
Another reason to properly dispose unwanted medicines, according to the Council Rock Coalition for Healthy Young, is to keep the water safe.
"Safe disposal reduces the amount of pharmaceutical drugs in our water supply," the coalition said. "Do not flush medicines."
In 1999-2000, a first of its kind federal study tested 139 streams in 30 states for drugs and hormones. Eight out of 10 of the streams sampled harbored at least one contaminant, while seventy-five percent contained two or more.