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Federal Drug Agency Wants You To Hand Over Unused Prescriptions

Blue pills fall into the disposal receptacle for expired prescription drugs at a Pennsylvania police station as part of National Prescription Drug Take Back Day in 2012.

The Drug Enforcement Administration is partnering with police and fire departments and pharmacies Saturday to relaunch its drug take-back program, which encourages people to rummage through their homes and hand over unused prescriptions.

"Lots and lots of folks have prescription pills that have either expired or they no longer need, and in the wrong hands, those are poison," acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg told NPR in an interview. "So the purpose of the program is to get those out of medicine cabinets. We can dispose of them anonymously and safely."

Rosenberg said there are close to 5,000 locations around the country that will participate in the drug take-back. He said the program is popular and effective, not to mention that he and other Obama administration officials say it could help make a dent in heroin abuse. Rosenberg said about 46,000 people die each year from a drug overdose and roughly half of those cases involve heroin or prescription opiates.

"There's a very close connection between new heroin users and prescription pill abuse," Rosenberg said. "About four out of five heroin users start on prescription pills. So to the extent we can get this stuff out of people's homes ... we think we can make a difference, not just in overdoses and emergency room visits, but also with the number of people starting, trying out heroin."

The DEA said that from 2010 to 2014, when earlier versions of the take-back program ran, more than 4.8 million pounds (2,411 tons) of drugs were collected.

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