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David Schiller
David Schiller, of the Drug Enforcement Administration, talks about Saturday's Drug Take-Back Day while in Billings.

To help combat prescription drug abuse, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration is hosting its second national Drug Take-Back Day on Saturday.

Montana residents are encouraged to clean out their medicine cabinets of expired and unused prescription drugs and bring them to one of at least 30 sites for disposal, said David Schiller, the assistant resident agent in charge for DEA’s Rocky Mountain Division in Denver.

“No questions asked,” Schiller said while visiting Billings on Wednesday.

The Drug Take-Back Day will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with help from a number of state and local law enforcement offices across the state as part of the nationwide event.

Collection sites can be found by going to www.dea.gov and clicking on the “Got Drugs?” banner on the home page. Citizens can search by ZIP code, city or county for the nearest location.

Prescription drug abuse is an increasing problem, especially in Montana, where about 300 people a year die from prescription drugs compared with 80 deaths a year from drunken driving, Schiller said.

More Americans abuse prescription drugs than use cocaine, hallucinogens and heroin combined, according a 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Prescription drug abusers often get the drugs from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet, Schiller said.

The drugs are easily accessible and “nobody realizes the danger,” Schiller said. People think the drugs “must be OK” because they were manufactured in a controlled environment, he said.

Prescription drugs, not marijuana, have become the “starter drug” for 12- and 13-year-olds, he said.

And 35 percent of teens aged 12 to 17 can get prescription drugs within one day, Schiller said.

The most commonly abused prescription drugs are Vicodin and Oxycontin, both painkillers, Schiller said. One Oxycontin pill can sell for about $80 on the street, he said.

The take-back initiative addresses public safety as well as public health, the DEA said.

The agency discourages disposing of drugs by flushing them down the toilet because of the potential for harming waterways. And throwing drugs in the garbage isn’t a good idea, Schiller said, because abusers can go through the garbage looking for drugs.

The DEA will incinerate all of the drugs collected.

The DEA’s first drug take-back event, last September, resulted in 121 tons of prescription drugs being collected at 4,100 sites nationwide.

Montanans turned in 1,200 pounds of prescription drugs at about 30 sites, he said.

Contact Clair Johnson at cjohnson@billingsgazette.com or 657-1282.

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