By Kaytlyn L. Sheldon Special to the Osceola Edition Believe that teens in small communities do not abuse prescription drugs? Think again. Every day, 2,500 teenagers nationwide use a prescription drug to get high for the first time. In fact, pharmacy robberies have increased 80 percent in the past five years in the United States. Prescription drug abuse is the third leading cause of people entering into treatment here at Ten Sixteen Recovery Network," says prevention coordinator Kim Livingston at the organization's Big Rapids center. The Network provides substance abuse treatment and prevention to Gladwin, Clare, Midland, Mecosta, Osceola, and Isabella counties. Prescription drug abuse is intentionally taking a medication that is not prescribed for you, or taking it for reasons or in dosages other than as prescribed. Abuse of prescription drugs can produce serious health effects, including addiction. According to The Partnership for a Drug Free America, one in five teens has abused prescription painkillers, tranquilizers or stimulants. Many teens turn to prescription drug abuse due to false sense of security. They think that the drugs are safe since a doctor prescribed them. Another reason teens turn to prescription drugs is the ease of access to these drugs at home, a friend's house, or the Internet. "Seventy percent of teens who are abusing prescription drugs say they get them from family or friends, with or without their permission," explained Livingston. "Simple things like locking up medications and keeping track of refills can help reduce the chances of abuse or theft." Most people don't lock up their prescription medications, nor do they discard them when they are no longer needed for their intended use, making them vulnerable to theft or misuse. Would you notice if one or two pills were missing from your prescriptions? Chances are, you probably wouldn't and that is what addicts are betting on. The good news is that parents and guardians can help prevent prescription drug abuse by Monitoring, Securing, and Disposing their prescriptions. To Monitor, parents should take note of how many pills are in each prescription bottle or pill packet. Parents should also keep track of the refills. If refilling medications happens more often than expected, that could indicate a problem. Approach Securing prescriptions the same way you would other valuables in your home, like jewelry or cash. There's no shame in helping protect those items. The same holds true for medication. Parents are urged to take prescription medications out of the medicine cabinet and hide them in a place only they know about. If possible, keep all medicines, both prescription and over-the-counter, in a safe place, such as a locked cabinet teens cannot access. Safely Disposing of expired or unused prescription medications is a critical step in helping protect teens. Unless the directions on the packaging say otherwise, do not flush medication down the drain or toilet. "Proper disposal also helps keep the environment and drinking water clean," adds Livingston. "Trace amounts of medications can be found in the drinking water of most areas." The Ten Sixteen Recovery Network and local law enforcement are hoping to make prescription drugs even harder for teens to obtain by participating in the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) National Take Back Initiative. Now is the time to clean out your medicine cabinets and properly dispose of all your unwanted or expired medications. From Monday, Oct. 24 through Saturday, Oct. 29, you can drop off your surplus pills during regular business hours at the following participating law enforcement agencies: Mecosta and Osceola Sherriff's departments, Reed City Police, Evart Police, Big Rapids Police, as well as FSU Campus police. If you suspect your teen may be abusing prescription medications, local hospitals can draw blood for a drug test with a physician's order. Ten Sixteen Recovery Network offers drug assessments, educational groups, along with counseling groups. For more information, contact Livingston by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Big Rapids Sixteen Recovery Network at (231) 527-2000. For more locations around Michigan, go to www.1016.org. If the week of Oct. 24 doesn't work for you, don't worry. Permanent disposal mailboxes available seven days a week will be coming soon to both Mecosta and Osceola counties.