FORT SILL, Okla.-- Prescription drug abuse is a major problem in the United States and in the Army.

It is defined as taking a prescription drug that is not prescribed for you, or taking it for reasons other than intended or in dosages other than as prescribed. Prescription drugs are now second only to marijuana and alcohol as commonly abused substances in America.

This is why it is important to get expired or unfinished prescription drugs out of medicine cabinets, bedside tables and other places where people commonly keep them. These drugs can potentially be abused and redirected by family members, friends, guests and criminals. There has been an alarming rise in the rate of burglaries and home break-ins for the sole purpose of obtaining prescription drugs.

Many people believe that prescription and over-the-counter drugs are safer than illegal drugs, but that is only true when the drugs are take as prescribed for their intended purposes. Properly prescribed medications can treat many different pains and illnesses, but when abused, these drugs can be addictive and put abusers at risk for negative health effects, including overdose and death, especially when mixed with alcohol.

The most common ways of abusing prescription and OTC drugs are:

Taking a medication that has been prescribed for someone else.
Often family members share their medications when a family member has a pain or illness, thinking they are doing a good thing or saving money. In reality this practice can encourage pill-swapping, especially among younger people. It is dangerous because medications that are prescribed to treat a particular patient's medical situation can cause adverse drug interactions when taken by others.

Taking a drug at a higher quantity or in another manner than prescribed
Taking more than the prescribed dosage of prescription or OTC drugs can cause serious effects. Most prescription drugs are taken orally, but abusers sometimes crush the tablets and snort or inject the powders. This causes the drugs to enter the bloodstream much quicker, and can cause serious reactions such as rapid or irregular heartbeat, euphoria, impaired breathing and possibly death.

Taking a drug for another purpose than prescribed
Many of the abused drugs can produce pleasurable effects, which is why abusers take them to get high. These drugs can rapidly lead to addiction and tolerance to the effects of the drugs, which then requires consuming even greater quantities of them to achieve the same euphoric state. This leads to addiction and often overdoses.

All medications should be kept in a secured place, taken as directed and consumed completely, unless there is a complication with the treatment. Any unused or expired medications should be disposed of properly, which means taking them to an authorized disposal site. Check with your pharmacist, a local law enforcement office or the closest federal or state drug enforcement agencies, who will direct you to a proper disposal site.

Do not flush them down the toilet or put them in the trash or landfill. This will only contaminate the environment. To keep someone from redirecting and abusing the drugs you turn in for disposal, mix the pills with used coffee grounds in a container, then take that to a disposal site.

Fort Sill is having a Drug Take-Back day Sept. 28 from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. You can drop off all expired or unwanted drugs, no questions asked, at the following locations:

Main Exchange Food Court, Fort Sill Commissary, Reynolds Army Community Hospital, Graham Resiliency Training Center, Southern Plains and Old Calvary Post Neighborhood Offices. For more information, call the Fort Sill Army Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) at 442-4205.