Pharmacist Al Brown proprietor of Liberty Drug in Chatham expects his store to be busier than normal Saturday, except more people may be dropping off prescriptions than picking them up.

Lt. Douglas Compton expects equally as much traffic at the Washington Township police station.

That's because law enforcement agencies and pharmacies across the county are participating in Operation Take Back New Jersey, a DEA-sponsored initiative in which households between the hours of 10 a.m. to 2 pm. on Saturday, Sept. 27, can dispose of unused, unwanted or expired medications in a very anonymous manner. Syringes and other sharp instruments will not be accepted.

"It's wonderful and the turnout is very large," said Brown who has been participating since its inception four years ago. "It's a shame it's only twice a year. People come in every week looking to drop off."

Initiated by the Drug Enforcement Agency New Jersey Division, the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey, the New Jersey State Association of Police Chiefs, as well as other state, local and tribal law enforcement partners, the pilot program, debuted as Operation Medicine Cabinet in New Jersey in 2010, and resulted in the collection of 14,436 pounds of drugs. Due to its overwhelming success expanded nationwide.

"The ultimate goal is to get unused and expired prescription medications out of the house," said Drug Enforcement Agent Special Agent and Public Information Officer, Tim McMahon. "There has been an increase in prescription drug abuse in teens and we want to decrease the ease of availability."

According to the New Jersey Substance Abuse Monitoring System (NJ-SAMS) Substance Abuse Treatment Admissions for 2013, the top five drugs of choices among Morris County residents were as follows: alcohol, heroin, other opiates, cocaine, marijuana and "other drugs."

Drug-related deaths due to heroin have increased 53 percent from 2010-2012, according to the Governor's Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Task Force, with more than two-thirds involving prescription medications, as a so-called gateway.

The 8th Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey (DFNJ) bi-annual Tracking Study of Parent Attitude and Behavior in Alcohol and Drug Abuse discovered a 19 percent drop since 2012 among New Jersey parents who felt that children have access to over-the-counter drugs out of medicine cabinets.

The survey which involved parents of children ages 12-15 further revealed that 58 percent of parents admitted to having not taken inventory of their prescription and OTC medicine in the past two months, and that 84 percent of them have not purged their medicine cabinets. However, the number of parents who have discussed the proper use of prescription and OTC medication abuse has increased.

Prescription drug abuse transcends all demographics including the middle age and elderly. According to statistics recently released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the greatest increase in opioid-related deaths originated in the 55-64 age group among non-Hispanic whites.

From 1999-2011, drug fatalities from opioids increased from 4,263 deaths in 1999 to 17,000 in 2011. The number of deaths from a combination of opioids and benzodiazepine drugs like Xanax increased 13 percent from 1999 to 2011.

According to the 2013 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 6.8 million Americans reported abusing prescription drugs in 2012, with 54 percent admitting to obtaining prescription pain relievers through friends, relatives and raiding a family medicine cabinet.

Washington Twp. has been involved in the DEA-sponsored program since its inception.

On average, the site collects 80-95 pounds of used medication per take-back day, or the equivalent of four to five garbage bags, said Lt. Douglas Compton.

The last Operation Take Back Day was in April, and resulted in a statewide collection of 17,745 pounds of drugs compared to 1,134 pounds in Morris, McMahon said.

Come Monday, prescriptions collected from participating Take Back sites are collected in conjunction with the National Guard and then taken to an undisclosed site for incineration.

"The ultimate goal is to get unused and expired prescription drugs out of the house," said McMahon. "We want to decrease the ease of availability due to the increase in prescription drug abuse in teens."

In addition to the twice-yearly DEA-sponsored take-back days, Morris County Prevention is Key, a.k.a. MCPIK, is another organization that uses drop-boxes to help reduce access to prescription medications.

Incepted in 1989, the Rockaway-based nonprofit, according to its Web site (www.mcpik.com), provides prevention, education and information and referral services throughout Morris County in order to prevent substance abuse, addiction, violence and related issues.

MCPIK is also the parent organization for The Community Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Morris, CCSHM, (www.safehealthymorris.org), which collaborates with law enforcement agencies to install 24/7 Prescription Drug Drop Boxes that bear the CCSHM logo.

"This helps prevent kids getting access to pills, medicine sharing between the elderly and keeps our water clean," said Barbara Kauffman, director of prevention services for Morris County Prevention is Key and the coordinator of CCSHM.

The organization has installed 19 drop boxes throughout Morris County with several more in the works.

When it comes to the number of permanent drop boxes, Morris County tops the nation and the state, she said.

To date, the Sheriff's Department has collected 6,000 pounds of medication, Kauffman said. Last year, Operation Take Back resulted in the recouping of 780,158 pounds of drugs nationwide.

Buoyed by the success of its initial participation in Operation Take Back, the Denville Police Department joined forces with MCPIK to obtain a 24/7 CCSHM Prescription Drug Drop Box.

"We did participate in Operation Take Back for the first 3 years and were surprised by the amounts of prescriptions turned over to us," Chief Christopher Wagner wrote in an e-mail

With the switch to round-the-clock accessibility, the amount of prescription medication filling the permanent boxes still manages to astound him.

"I am actually surprised at the amount of prescription medication that we have dropped off in the bin on a regular basis," he said. "We have had to call the Sheriff's Department several times to unload the bin because it was nearly overflowing."

Wagner applauds the program for serving as a stopgap measure for prescriptions that otherwise would have made it to the streets, primarily through the hands of high school students. With no previous means of proper disposal, the medication would have remained in the home seemingly at the beck and call of curious teenagers.

"I would bet that more than 30 to 40 percent of homes in Morris County have a prescription for pain killer medications such as Percocet in their medicine cabinets," he said. "…. Some high school students would visit their friends' homes, go to the bathroom, and take the pain killers from the medicine cabinets and either take them for their own use or sell them on the streets. Many people begin their heroin habit on opiate pain killers."

Morris County Prosecutor Fredric M. Knapp echoed those sentiments citing a statewide heroin epidemic as a result of the abuse of pain killers and opioids.

"The proper disposing of such prescription medication is a critical element in breaking this tragic downward spiral," he wrote in an e-mail. "We join with all participating law enforcement agencies in supporting this important program to safely remove these potentially addictive drugs from households."

The following police departments have prescription drug drop off boxes: Mount Olive, Netcong, Roxbury, Mount Arlington, Mendham, Wharton, Dover, Jefferson, Rockaway Twp., Rockaway, Denville, Hanover, Parsippany, Madison, East Hanover, Kinnelon, Montville, Butler and Pequannock.