CHICAGO (CBS) — While doctors do prescribe opioids to fight pain, one Chicago surgeon is taking steps to ensure the highly-addictive medications don’t fall into the wrong hands with a new drug take-back program.

The notion behind it is simple: If you don’t use them, toss them.

“Prescription medication abuse is an enormous problem,” said Dr. Jonah Stulberg from Northwestern Memorial. According to Stulberg, 80 percent of opioid medications prescribed to patients by surgeons go unused.

“It’s also important that they understand that once they’re done using those opioid medications, they shouldn’t be left around.”

However, they’re often borrowed or stolen by family members or friends. In fact, 75 percent of all heroin users started by abusing the prescription drugs.

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“They either like the feeling, or feel that they continue to need it because they have ongoing pain and then they progress,” Dr. Stulberg said.

Roberta Donat, who had hernia surgery in December, was so nervous about the risk of addiction, she initially decided against taking any opioid-based mediation.

“I didn’t want anything but Tylenol, and that wasn’t going so well because it was quite painful,” she said.

Donat ended up changing course, but said she is happy to have a place to safely toss the pills she didn’t need. “All I know is that you’re not supposed to put them in the garbage,” she said.

“It’s right here in the clinic, so it’s an easy way to throw away your unused medications, and I think that’s the responsible thing to do,” Stulberg said.

Dr. Stulberg is also leading efforts to lower the number of pills prescribed, thus reducing the amount that could potentially be leftover. He hopes the program expands to other clinics and hospitals — so wherever you get the drug, you can return it, closing the loop.

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