BIG RAPIDS — Over the past few years, prescription drugs have become second only to alcohol as the abused drug of choice in Mecosta County, according to data from Ten16 Recovery Network in Big Rapids.

To keep prescriptions out of the hands of people who want to abuse the medication and out of the way of children and pets, several drug take-back events have been planned throughout Mecosta and Osceola counties. These events, scheduled during July and August, also will accept hypodermic needles from people who use them to manage medication.

"Prescription drugs are Mecosta County's second leading type of abused drug," said Kim Livingston, prevention coordinator for Ten16. "By properly disposing of medications and needles we can help prevent them from getting into the hands of those who may want to abuse them. Most heroin addicts tell us they started with abusing stolen prescription drugs they get from family and friends without them knowing."

Anyone wishing to dispose of medications should bring them in the original container with all identifying personal information blacked out. Accepted items will include over-the-counter medicines, prescription drugs, liquids, inhalers, ointments and pet medications. People can stop by at any time during the three-hour window to drop off unwanted items. Medication and needle take-back events are set for the following times and locations:

• 3 to 6 p.m., Tuesday, July 25, at Reed City Multispecialty Clinic and Convenient Care Walk-In Clinic, 300 N. Patterson Road, Reed City;

• 3 to 6 p.m., Thursday, July 27, at Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital main lobby, 605 Oak St., Big Rapids;

• 2 to 5 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 29, at Evart Family Practice, 5991 95th Ave., Evart;

• 2 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 30, at Tustin Family Practice, 111 E. Church St., Tustin; and

• 2 to 5 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 31, at Canadian Lakes Family Practice, 8354 100th Ave., Canadian Lakes.

"Needles should be in an old laundry detergent bottle or something similar, heavy-duty plastic," Livingston said. "Label the bottle, put the needles in and when it's full, duct tape it shut and bring it for disposal. Even if the bottle isn't full on the collection day, go ahead and bring it."

The medication and needle take-back events are the result of a partnership between Ten16 and Spectrum Health.

"Our mission is to improve the health of the communities we serve," said Sarah Neubecker, communications manager for Spectrum Health Big Rapids and Reed City Hospitals. "Any time someone has medication or needles to be disposed of, it creates a safety hazard — small children or pets could get ahold of those things. Medication that's expired is not something people want to have laying around."

The United States Food and Drug Administration website contains a list of ways to dispose of unused medications, with medicine take-back programs at the top. Area residents don't need to wait for a special event, however, Livingston noted, because all area law enforcement agencies have a disposal drop-off bin, with several of them available 24 hours a day.

"People can dispose of medications any time they want to at our local law enforcement agencies," she said. "The jail, Ferris State University Department of Public Safety and the two sheriff's departments are open 24/7. Other offices, Evart, Reed City and Big Rapids police, can be accessed when their offices are open."

Ten16 began partnering with the hospital for take-back events for several reasons, including the hospital's ability to dispose of used needles, Livingston said.

"When we do a take-back at the hospital, we have a law enforcement officer there," she said. "When the event is over, the hospital takes custody of the needles and the law enforcement officer takes custody of the drugs."

In the past year, more than 1,300 pounds of medications have been collected from the two-county area, Livingston said, with more than 550 pounds of that during joint collection events with Spectrum Health. Those events also have collected more than 400 pounds of needles.

"I think many people feel more comfortable going into a hospital setting as opposed to a law enforcement setting," Livingston said. "Also, some people don't know where the law enforcement offices are, but everybody knows where the hospital or their doctor is."