Prescription painkillers and other drugs kept in the medicine cabinet long after they’ve fulfilled their purpose are an attractive hazard for teens or young people hoping for a quick high, law enforcement officials have said repeatedly.

Throwing the drugs in the trash isn’t a good idea, either. Flushing them down the toilet can contaminate groundwater, environmentalists say.

People seem to be listening. Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows said 3,000 pounds of unwanted medications have been collected so far at the county’s 11 drug drop-off sites, with some of the larger cities averaging 50 pounds a week.

The sites — 10 in the lobbies of police departments and a drive-up site outside the Sheriff’s Office in Hastings — offer an easy way to get rid of old and unwanted meds in a responsible way.

The first three sites opened almost two years ago; the latest, in Inver Grove Heights, opened about two weeks ago. Each police department empties its box when it’s full, and the Sheriff’s Office collects the meds and takes them to a disposal site where they are incinerated, Bellows said.

“The public has embraced this,” he said. “Next to marijuana, prescription medications are becoming the most abused by adolescents. … As I’ve told groups, you may be your child’s biggest pusher and you don’t even know it.”

The trouble escalates when teens or young adults have filched all they can from the medicine cabinet and turn to buying illicit prescription meds on the street. That becomes too expensive, and heroin becomes a cheaper alternative with a similar high. And heroin use is becoming epidemic in Minnesota, authorities have said. Treatment centers report that 20 percent of admissions are for opiate use.

Drop-off sites also are available in Hennepin, Ramsey, Washington, Rice and several other counties. In Dakota County, more information is available at drugdropoff.html. Elsewhere, go to the county sheriff’s website or call your local police.