HARRISBURG - Gov. Corbett is trying to raise awareness of prescription-drug abuse, encouraging Pennsylvanians to empty their medicine cabinets of expired or unused pharmaceuticals and dispose of them in one of 250 new drop-off boxes in the state.

Corbett said at a Capitol news conference yesterday that the drop-off boxes are the safest, surest way to get rid of them, and he asked people not to throw them away in the trash or flush them down toilets or drains.

"We want to keep them out of the hands of criminals," Corbett, a former prosecutor, said.

A $100,000 federal grant is paying for the boxes, a program that was developed by the Office of National Drug Control Policy and is active in about three-dozen other states.

The boxes are under 24-hour surveillance in secure locations, such as police departments, sheriff's offices or district attorneys' offices. The drugs collected will be incinerated once a month.

Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico said many home burglars are addicts in search of prescription drugs in medicine cabinets, while authorities are also worried about teenagers getting addicted after trying prescription drugs they find in their parents' medicine cabinets.

Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed said he considers prescription drugs to be the No. 1 gateway drug to heroin. Law-enforcement officials in his county have been shocked at the number of people found to be driving under the influence of prescription drugs, Freed said.

"We're confident this will make a huge dent in the problem we're facing in this commonwealth," Freed said.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society says its tips for proper and safe disposal of leftover medications include scratching off any personal information on the medication bottle. For people worried about their personal safety, they should carry the medication in a non-transparent bag, take a friend or be aware of suspicious people, it said.

For people who can't find a drop-off box, the Medical Society also recommends grinding up the medication, mixing it with kitty litter and placing it in a sealable bag in the trash.