A MN county destroyed nearly 11 tons of unused prescription drugs last year

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There were a lot of unused and unwanted prescription drugs for the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office to get rid of last year.

Nearly 11 tons' worth.

The office collected and destroyed 21,940 pounds of unwanted medication in 2015 – a record since the medicine disposal program started in March of 2012, according to an email news release from the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.

The final total in 2014 was 16,700 pounds.

“We’re heading in the right direction," said Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek in the news release. "Opiate deaths are down, medicine disposal is up, and that’s due largely in part to the residents of this county."

The sheriff's office is one of the agencies that offers drop boxes for people to get rid of unwanted, unused medicine they have – click here for a map and hours.

Disposing of the drug prevents others from using it, or selling it on the black market. It also helps avoid contaminating water.

A report that looked at 2014 data found treatment for heroin addiction was at an all-time high in Hennepin and Ramsey counties.

Prescription drug abuse

The abuse and proliferation of prescription drugs is seen by many as a real issue in the U.S. – the Mayo Clinic calls it an "increasing problem," while Director Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse describes it as a "serious public health problem."

Why?

Well Volkow says stats show 52 million people have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons in their lifetimes.

Most often it's opioids (used to treat pain), central nervous system depressants (for anxiety and sleep disorders) and stimulants (often used for ADHD treatment), the institute says.

But the problem can then turn more serious, as Volkow points out, with users sometimes becoming addicted.

The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office says prescription drug abuse is also the "primary route" for people to become addicted to illegal drugs such as heroin.

The Centers for Disease Control says more than 45 percent of people who used heroin were also addicted to prescription painkillers.

Vox dug into the history of this, and found that during the 90s, a big push to treat pain with prescription drugs led to doctors doling out more and more opioids (like OxyContin or Vicodin).

So officials responded by limiting access to the prescription drugs – but many who were addicted simply switched to using a street drug like heroin to compensate. Vox uses this chart to show how, when the crackdown came, opioid painkiller deaths leveled out, but heroin overdose deaths quickly went up.

The CDC says there's currently a "heroin epidemic," and notes use of the drug has more than doubled among adults 18-25 in the past decade.

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