- Associated Press - Friday, April 25, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A North Dakota state program that collects unused medication to help fight prescription drug abuse has destroyed 3.3 tons of OxyContin and other drugs in the past five years, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Friday.

“Reducing access will reduce abuse,” said Stenehjem, who hosted a “Take Back” event Friday at the state Capitol. Prescription drug abuse “is a very serious and a growing problem nationally just as it is in North Dakota.”

Saturday is designated as the national prescription drug Take Back Day.

Several people dropped off unused and leftover prescription drugs in special disposal containers on Friday at the Capitol; one woman even disposed of unneeded dog medicine.

“I’ve been waiting for a while to do this because I didn’t want to throw these in the trash,” said Amy Schutt, who tossed several bottles of prescription medicine.

Disposal containers are located at police departments and sheriff’s offices at 34 locations across the state, Stenehjem said. The drugs are incinerated at a facility at North Dakota State University under the supervision of law enforcement. More than 1,000 pounds of unwanted prescription drugs were burned there last month.

North Dakota’s program was launched in 2009 and has provided a safe way to dispose of the drugs and has helped keep them out of the hands of young people, Stenehjem said.

“Not only are we keeping these medications from being sold to our kids, but by disposing of the drugs properly instead of flushing them or putting them in the trash, we are protecting the state’s resources from potential contamination,” Stenehjem said.

A recent survey indicated 18 percent of North Dakota’s high school students have abused prescription drugs at least once, he said. Prescription drugs are the third-most abused drug in North Dakota, behind alcohol and marijuana, Stenehjem said.

“Where do they get them? Usually from family members and friends,” Stenehjem said. “Where do they find them? Medicine cabinets, night stands and anywhere else medicines are stored.”

The attorney general said prescription drug abuse “is not just a problem for our youth.”

State law enforcement officials trying to fight prescription drug abuse have even worked with businesses such as real estate companies and funeral homes, Stenehjem said.

Real estate agents have been asked not to show contents of medicine cabinets during open houses because criminals may scope out homes posing as buyers, Stenehjem said. Criminals in search of prescription drugs also have been known to check obituaries so that they can break into the deceased person’s home to steal medications, he said.

“We’ve alerted funeral directors to make sure the family knows right away that one of the things on the checklist is to consider taking those medications and dropping them off at a receptacle,” he said.

Stenehjem said 29 million pills of narcotics and muscle relaxants were dispensed in North Dakota in 2011, the latest figures available.

“That’s 43 pills for every man, woman and child in the state,” Stenehjem said.

State health officials also are reporting that the number of people in seeking treatment for prescription drug abuse has risen in the past few years, he said.

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