Prescription drugs have been making their way to the streets for too long. In many cases it's the leftover unused medication sitting in the bathroom cabinet that gets picked up by someone snooping around and passed along. The problem is that until now, consumers never really had any easy way to dispose of medications if they no longer need them. So that half a bottle of Vicodin or those leftover OxyContin pills just sat in the cabinet practically waiting to be stolen. But that should change soon as the federal government has recently paved the way to allow pharmacies to take back unused prescription medications in an effort to get them out of homes and away from potential abusers.

According to Attorney General Eric Holder, 6.5 million Americans ages 12 and older are currently abusing prescription drugs (taking medications that were not prescribed to them).  In 2011 alone, more than half of the 41,300 unintentional drug overdose deaths in the U.S. involved prescription drugs. Even worse, close to four in 10 teens who misused prescription drugs obtained them from family medicine cabinets.

"These shocking statistics illustrate that prescription drug addiction and abuse represent nothing less than a public health crisis," said Holder in a video message posted on the Justice Department's website. "Every day, this crisis touches — and devastates — the lives of Americans from every state, in every region and from every background and walk of life."

Health advocates have been arguing for years that consumers need an easy way of disposing of these medications so that they don't wind up in the wrong hands. Sure you could flush them down the toilet or toss them in the trash, but that route is pretty harmful to the environment. Under this new rule, pharmacies will be able to collect unused prescription medications that can then be destroyed.

The new regulation, which will go into effect in a month, covers drugs designated as controlled substances. Those include opioid painkillers like OxyContin, stimulants like Adderall and depressants like Ativan.

Related on MNN:

Feds will soon allow pharmacies to take back unused prescription drugs
Under a new program, pharmacies can work with the government to get drugs off the streets.