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Trying to keep on top of a popular drug drop-off program, Billings police on Wednesday emptied 15 boxes filled with expired prescription drugs.

The drugs are scheduled to be incinerated next week.

Billings residents have turned at least 60 pounds of expired prescription drugs since October in a permanent drop box at the Billings Police Department. Two more drop boxes are scheduled to arrive next week to keep up with demand, said Officer Tom Keightly, and he is now working to get a fourth box.

Until the boxes arrive, authorities have increased the frequency of emptying the box and incinerating its contents.

The popularity of the program is no accident, nor is it a surprise given its track record. Billings Police Chief Rich St. John is a member of Attorney General Steve Bullock's Prescription Drug Advisory Council. At the first statewide drug take-back event in 2010, Billings led the state in the amount of drugs collected: 406 pounds of prescription drugs in one day. Billings has also participated in every statewide and federal drug take-back effort.

The support in Billings to raise awareness of prescription drug abuse -- and stop it -- has been tremendous from the very beginning, Bullock said.

Bullock established the program to keep old or unwanted prescription drugs away from addicts. Montana communities have disposed of more than half a ton of unwanted or expired prescription drugs at local, permanent drop boxes in the the last six months.

The program, called Operation Medicine Cabinet, provides up to $1,000 to communities to build or buy the secure drop boxes. It began in June 2011. To date, 17 Montana communities have applied for and won grants with 11 drop boxes now open.

Statistics show that 70 percent of people who abuse prescription drugs get them from friends or family. Additionally, the latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey of Montana teenagers showed that by the time Montana students are seniors in high school, 23 percent have abused prescription drugs.

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