80 mg pills of OxyContin.

80 mg pills of OxyContin. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara, 2010

With prescription drug abuse on the rise, law enforcement and public health officials are encouraging residents to dispose of unwanted or expired medication at drop-off locations across Long Island this week.

On Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the federal Drug Enforcement Agency will host drug reclamation events throughout the country where people can anonymously turn in painkillers and other medications.

There will be 32 drop-off sites in Nassau and 18 in Suffolk. They include 34 police stations, 13 hospitals, Adelphi University, the Bellmore Long Island Rail Road station and the Setauket Fire Department.

DEA Special Agent Charles Bernard said the goal is to get residents, particularly those with young children, to clear out their medicine cabinets of unwanted pills. Bernard notes that every day 2,500 teenagers nationwide use prescription drugs for the first time.

"The youth of our nation is at stake here," Bernard said on Thursday at a meeting of the Nassau County Heroin Prevention Task Force in Uniondale. "This is an epidemic and it's happening every single night." The task force was formed by County Executive Edward Mangano to target heroin but has shifted its focus to prescription drugs.

The DEA has hosted two reclamation days on Long Island in the past year, collecting a total of 309 tons of prescription medication.

Thursday's event brought together representatives from law enforcement, government, hospitals and pharmacies to discuss ways to educate Nassau's youth about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. The meeting was organized by Mangano and Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice.

"We will do whatever we can to help our residents," said Acting Nassau Health Commissioner Laurence Eisenstein.

Last year, 98 people died in Nassau from opiate use, with one-third related to oxycodone, according to county health officials. Nationwide, abuse of prescription narcotics killed more people in 2010 than cocaine and heroin combined, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In August, the task force created a subcommittee to study prescription drug abuse and to devise recommendations to attack the problem. A report from the subcommittee, county officials said, is expected in the next few months. The report is expected to include policy changes, training suggestions and legislative initiatives.

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