Colder temperatures are keeping us indoors, along with the potential risk of contracting COVID-19. So federal drug officials in the Garden State say it's crucial that residents secure their prescription drugs so that they don't end up in the wrong hands.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has launched a "Secure Your Meds" winter campaign to complement the agency's prescription drug "take back" days that typically occur twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall.

"We want to remove the temptation for experimentation," Special Agent Timothy McMahon of the DEA's New Jersey Division said. "So many times when we go to the doctor and receive a prescription, it goes in the medicine cabinet. And if we don't finish it, most of the times it just sits there."

McMahon noted children aren't the only individuals who may misuse prescription drugs. Individuals with substance abuse problems or in recovery — including visiting family members or loved ones — could be tempted during a quick visit to your bathroom.

Misuse of prescription pain relievers is among the most common forms of illicit drug use. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than half of those who misused prescription drugs in the past year (surveyed in 2013 and 2014) obtained the pain relievers from family or friends, either by stealing them or asking for them.

McMahon added that a large percentage of new heroin users started their addiction by abusing prescription opioids.

"The current pandemic has taken some of the focus away from the ongoing opioid epidemic," Susan Gibson, special agent in charge of the DEA's New Jersey Division, said. "We want to remind the public of the importance of cleaning out your medicine cabinets or securing your prescription medications."

During its most recent nationwide push to collect unused prescription drugs, in October 2020, the DEA collected more than 493 tons of drugs at 4,587 sites.

There are multiple year-round drop boxes for unneeded and unused drugs in every New Jersey county. The boxes can accept solid pharmaceuticals such as pills and patches, but syringes and liquids are not accepted.

Check here for a list of drop boxes in New Jersey.

Those who wish to hang on to their prescription medications for legitimate reasons, McMahon said, can secure them in a lockbox.

"It might take you an extra 30 seconds to get them out," he said.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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