San Diego, California - They show up pretending to be interested in property for sale. But they are there primarily to look for one thing: prescription drugs.

Addicts have taken to targeting real estate open houses, pilfering through people’s medicine cabinets and night stands looking for prescription drugs, especially painkillers.

To curb this growing problem, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, District Attorney’s Office, Mental Health Systems, Inc., the San Diego County Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force and the Safe Homes Coalition launched a campaign Tuesday to help stop prescription drug misuse and abuse.

The Safe Homes Coalition—comprised of real estate agents, businesses, and nonprofit organizations—produced a public service announcement (watch below) that will air on local radio and television stations. The goal is to inform the public and the REALTORS® Association’s 24,000 members about prescription drug thefts at open houses and the need to use, secure and dispose of prescription drugs properly.

“As law enforcement, this (prescription drug abuse) is something we deal with daily,” said Sheriff’S Commander Mike Barletta. “If there is any way of keeping these drugs from being misused we want to assist. We have set up 24 drop-off boxes throughout the county…to get those drugs out of homes and away from kids.”

Real estate agents will also make plastic bags available to their clients and ask them to remove unneeded prescription drugs before an open house.

Although the coalition’s initial focus is San Diego County, the group hopes to expand the education campaign throughout California and across the United States.

The campaign launched as the County Board of Supervisors declared March Prescription Drug Abuse Awareness Month to shed light on the fastest-growing drug problem in the U.S.

The most recent County Prescription Drug Abuse Report Card revealed prescription drug use and abuse has increased in the region in the last few years.

The report shows prescription drugs played a role in the deaths of 268 people in 2012, a 22 percent increase from 2008 when 220 deaths were reported.

“I really want to put a strong resolution forward to shed a light on this issue,” said County Supervisor Dave Roberts, who spearheads the San Diego County Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force. “The Task Force is here to save lives…we want to save people by educating them about the dangers (of abusing prescription drugs) and encourage them to seek treatment.” 

Parents who believe their child might have a drug problem and adults with substance abuse issues should call the County’s Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240 to get help. They may also call the Prescription Drug Task Force at (877) 662-6384