Click here to learn about the programClick here for more tips on getting rid of medicationCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When an elderly person dies, the medicine cabinet is likely jam-packed with prescription pills. Their family members often call a pharmacy for help.Other people don't know what to do with their own expired medications."They just want the stuff out of the house," said Jerry Leonard, director of pharmacy services for four Drug Emporium locations.Last month, Drug Emporium launched a program that lets people safely dispose of expired, unused and unwanted medications at the pharmacy.The program, called Dispose My Meds, is sponsored by the National Community Pharmacists Association, which represents independent pharmacies.Besides preventing dangerous drug interactions and accidental ingestions, the program also helps protect the environment, Leonard said. Many pharmaceuticals can harm water supplies when flushed down the toilet.At no cost, people can drop the medications off at local Drug Emporium locations."They don't have to be our patients," Leonard said. "Anybody can just stop by."The store then works with a disposal company that gets rid of the medications safely.The medications must be in their original, labeled containers, he said.Unfortunately, he said, the program cannot accept controlled substances -- such as narcotic painkillers -- because of federal Drug Enforcement Administration regulations.That's because law enforcement officers must be present when people return controlled substances, said DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno.Under a law passed last year, the DEA is working to develop new rules that will let people conveniently drop off controlled substances in their communities, Carreno said."We hope in the next six to eight months to have our regulations ready for public review," she said.The regulatory process can take several years, she said.For now, people who want to toss controlled substances can go to community take-back events sponsored by police agencies.One is set to take place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Huntington, sponsored by the Huntington Police Department and the Cabell County Substance Abuse Prevention Partnership. The event will take place at the United Way of the River Cities office, 820 Madison Ave.Even though the Drug Emporium program doesn't take controlled substances, it's still important for people to safely throw out unused pharmaceuticals, said Mike O'Neil, a University of Charleston pharmacy professor and chairman of the state Controlled Substance Advisory Board.Half of prescription drugs that are abused and diverted are not controlled substances, O'Neil said. Kids often get their hands on their parents' pill bottles, and the medications inside can have dangerous effects."A lot of people are experimenting with whatever's in the cabinet," he said.Reach Alison Knezevich at or 304-348-1240.