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Volunteers dumped pills and capsules of every size, shape and color into large plastic bags on Saturday outside Rimrock Mall.

Once filled, the bags were sealed inside cardboard boxes that later in the day would be incinerated. The discarded pill bottles would be crushed, to preserve the privacy of those dropping off their out-of-date medication.

The event was sponsored throughout the U.S. by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. With prescription drug abuse so prevalent, the DEA is using the take-back day to encourage people to clean out their medicine cabinets.

A similar event last September netted 121 tons of prescription drugs at nearly 4,100 sites.

A steady stream of vehicles stopped at the station set up outside the Crime Prevention Center. Drivers or passengers handed bags of pills or individual bottles to volunteers, who then discarded the contents.

Liquid medications were collected in a separate container and incinerated.

"We make it as convenient as we can," Billings Police Officer Mark Keyes said.

By the time the day was done, 247 pounds of drugs had been collected, Keyes said.

Saturday is the first of three events this year in Billings where people will be able to drop off their old drugs, Keyes said. The Billings Police Department will conduct a second take-back day June 4 during the city's annual Toxic Roundup, and a third event will take place outside the Crime Prevention Center on Aug. 27.

Besides reducing the potential for prescription drug abuse, Keyes said, the drug take-back days are also good for the environment.

"Before, most people flushed the drugs down the toilet and it would go out into the wastewater system," he said.

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