Program to Stop Accidental Overdoses Hits Home

A DEA's website announcing the take-back program.
CBS
In 2009 there were 7 million Americans aged 12 years and older who abused prescription drugs for non-medical purposes. Starting Saturday the DEA will offer a program to take back unused and unwanted prescription drugs.

For Bernie Strain it's heartbreaking to talk about his dead son.

"One day he joked his autograph would be worth something," says Strain.

Timmy Strain was 18 last year. He was recovering from a burn wound when his girlfriend's mother offered what were thought to be painkillers left over in a medicine cabinet. They turned out to be methadone. Timmy took the pills and died that night.

"There are only so many days you can go to the cemetery," says Strain.

Timmy is one statistic in a sea of troubling numbers. Nationwide there were 13,800 accidental overdose deaths from prescription painkillers in 2006, triple the number from 1999. That's more deaths than from heroin and cocaine combined, reports CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds.

"Most of those pharmaceutical drugs originate in our medicine cabinets in our home," says the DEA's Jack Riley.

The DEA's take-back program is designed to get unwanted drugs out of medicine cabinets before unwitting youngsters, confused adults or thieves can get to them. The returned drugs will be incinerated.

The DEA has set up 4,000 drop-off locations across the country where people can turn in their drugs anonymously and the DEA's website will locate the drop-off locations according to zip code.

The number of people requesting treatment for addiction to painkillers has gone up 400 percent from 1998 to 2008. At a Chicago drug treatment center officials hope the take-back program is just the start of an effort to counter the trend.

"I would hope that they would have an ongoing effort. You're not going to have an impact on these kinds of problems by a one-day effort," says the Haymarket Center's vice president Anthony Cole.

Haunted by his son's death, Bernie Strain lobbied Washington for a program like the program the DEA is inaugurating this weekend. He'll be supervising one of the drop-off sites in Philadelphia.

"When I'm at my busiest time with this issue I can let it go to try to help someone else," says Strain.

By doing so, he tries to save a life.

Click here to find a drop-off location near you.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.