Prescription drug abuse is so rampant in the United States it's been labeled an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Readily available in most homes' medicine cabinets, prescription drugs are topped only by marijuana as the most abused of all illicit drugs.

The problem is particularly acute for teenagers, those formative years when 90 percent of addictions take root. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicate one in six teens have used prescription drugs non-medically -- and two-thirds were obtained from family members and friends.

It should come as no surprise these teenagers can so easily access rather powerful drugs, given the dramatic increase in the number of prescriptions filled for pain relievers in this country. Hundreds of millions of prescription opioid painkillers are dispensed each year. Following natural laws of economics, the increased supply of legal prescriptions helps fuel increased demand in dangerous drug abuse. Each and every day in America, some 2,500 kids abuse a prescription medicine for the first time.

Law enforcement and education officials pay close attention to the epidemic but they only can do so much, short of raiding your bathroom. That part is up to you.

Experts suggest that for starters, you shouldn't use predictable storage places such as medicine cabinets unless they're locked up. In order not to become your teen's supplier, place them in unexpected spots. No matter where you hide them, care must be taken to monitor the number of pills you have so you can notice if somebody is taking them.

Disposing of unwanted or expired prescriptions properly also is vital. Flushing them down the toilet should not be an option as it is potentially bad for the environment. Instead, one should mix the medicine with coffee grounds or kitty litter before placing them in the trash.

Even easier is the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. The next one is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Coordinated by the Drug Enforcement Administration in partnership with local and state law enforcement agencies, the program is proving popular and successful. Nearly 10 tons of medications have been collected in Kansas in the four previous collection days.

"Unused prescriptions lingering in medicine cabinets pose a serious risk for accidents or abuse," said Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt. "I encourage all Kansans to take advantage of this opportunity to safely dispose of their unwanted medications by visiting a drop-off site on Saturday."

More than 50 drop-off sites will be in operation across the state. In northwest Kansas, they include: the Ellis County Law Enforcement Center, WaKeeney Police Department, Norton County Sheriff's Department, St. Francis Emergency Building and the Bird City Firehouse.

Taking advantage of this convenient program can help prevent addiction, overdose deaths and the diversion of drugs to criminals.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net