I am encouraging my readers and all consumers, parents, grandparents, health providers, schools, educators and patients to participate in prevention programs and activities to safely store and dispose of their medications on a continual basis and encourage all community members to take the pledge, “Spread the Word . . . One Pill Can Kill.”

Here are some startling statistics for readers:

• There were more deaths caused by drug overdoses in 2010 than traffic accidents among people 25 to 64 years of age.

• In 2010, drug overdoses in the United States of America caused 38,329 deaths and 22,134 of those deaths were from prescription drugs.

• In 2011, an estimated 22.5 million Americans 12 years of age or older used an illicit drug or abused a prescription drug in the past month.

• In 2009, 1.2 million emergency department visits were related to misuse or abuse of pharmaceuticals, an increase of 98.4 percent since 2004.

• Nonmedical use of prescription painkillers costs health insurers up to $72.5 billion annually in direct healthcare costs.

• Overdose deaths involving opioid pain relievers now exceed more deaths from heroin and cocaine combined.

• As many as 70 percent of people who abuse prescription drugs get them from a relative or friend instead of a doctor.

In a recent interview I had with Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis he offered me some information to share with my readers:

• Talk to your kids about the dangers of excessive alcohol use, drunk and drugged driving, the risks of street drugs like marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine and the potential harm from prescription drugs.

• Many people mistakenly assume that prescription drugs are safer than traditional street drugs because they are prescribed by a physician.

• Prescription drug misuse is one of the nation's fastest growing health problems and Marin County is not immune. According to the National Council on Patient Information and Education, one in five teens, or 4.5 million young people, has abused prescription drugs. Marin’s eleventh graders reported misusing prescription pain killers, sedatives and barbiturates at the same rate as their California peers. The rate of stimulant misuse among Marin County eleventh graders is 25 percent greater than the state average.

• Although Marin is recognized as one of the healthiest counties in California, we have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and other substances including prescription drugs. In Marin, more people die from misusing prescription drugs than from motor vehicle accidents.

• Prescription drugs are becoming the new gateway drug. Of the 3 million Americans who began using illicit drugs in 2010, one in four began by misusing prescription drugs. After marijuana and alcohol, prescription drugs are the most commonly abused substances among young people.

• Prescription medicines are also easy to obtain. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than half of the people who misuse prescription drugs got them from friends and relatives. In many cases, the drugs our children are misusing are coming from our own medicine cabinets.

How do we make sure these medications are used safely for health reasons, while also preventing their abuse? To prevent tragedies such as drug abuse and overdoses, you can take some important steps to safeguard your loved one.

Lock up your medicines, keep track of your medication quantities and learn how to properly dispose of unused medications. Also use “teachable moments” with your children while watching television or when taking medications to talk about how these drugs can be harmful or dangerous. It is never too early to start talking to your youth about the harms of prescription drug misuse and abuse.

Prescription drug misuse is a complex public health problem, contributing to unintentional drug poisonings, fatal overdoses, community violence and loss of human potential. The Marin County Sheriff’s Office, Marin Sanitary Service, Supervisor Susan Adams and wastewater treatment agencies of Marin County are sponsoring a take-back event on April 26 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Marin Center Veterans Memorial Auditorium parking lot.

I encourage residents to locate their local collection site and safely dispose of their accumulated unwanted and unused prescription drugs. The local pharmacies participating in Marin are Marin Medical Pharmacy (750 Las Gallinas Ave, San Rafael, (415) 479-1930); West Marin Pharmacy (4th and A streets, Pt. Reyes Station (415) 663-1121); Jack's Drug (121 Tunstead Ave, San Anselmo, (415) 454-1451); Pharmaca-Novato and Mill Valley Golden Gate Pharmacy (1525 E. Francisco Blvd. (415) 455-9042); West Marin Pharmacy, Pt. Reyes Station (11 Fourth St., Point Reyes Station (415) 663 1121).

Also, the Marin County Sheriff’s Office and Marinwood Fire Department will accept pills for disposal at Marinwood Fire Department at 777 Miller Creek Rd. in San Rafael. Police stations in Tiburon, Mill Valley, Sausalito, the Twin Cities, Ross, Fairfax, San Anselmo, Novato and San Rafael will accept pills as well. The service is free and anonymous ― no questions asked. Take your pills out of their containers and put them in baggies for safe disposal.

All prescription pills, vitamins and over-the-counter medications are welcome, as well as pet medications (pill form only). Items not accepted are creams, gels, liquids or containers of any kind. Marin County Sheriff’s office is sponsoring the station as part of the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration National Take-back Day.

Please educate your kids and grandkids about the dangers of prescription drugs-they are our most precious and cherished gifts. Many thanks to Willis for assisting with this article.

Fred Mayer, RPh, MPH, has been a practicing pharmacist for more than 50 years and is president of Pharmacists Planning Services, Inc., a nonprofit, public health, consumer pharmacy education organization. Send comments, questions and article ideas to ppsi@aol.com. Also, check out our website at ppsi.org to see all our public health programs.

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