Islanders working to treat or prevent addiction on Martha’s Vineyard met Thursday with Cong. William Keating for a frank discussion of opiate abuse. About 30 people, including clergy, public health officials, counselors, and members of the Dukes County Health Council Youth Task Force attended the one-hour session at the Federated Church in Edgartown.

Mr. Keating said the scourge of prescription drug and heroin addition is escalating faster than any progress to address the issues.

“Our country is dealing with this with the criminal justice system as a safety net, and it’s a public health problem,” Mr. Keating said. “It makes no sense.”

He said the cost of prevention and treatment is far less expensive than the cost of criminal prosecutions, family strife and lost productivity.

“It’s costing business billions,” Mr. Keating said. “For anyone to argue the costs factors, it’s ridiculous.”

The three-term congressman cited statistics that show more than half of the nation’s households have outdated or unused prescription pain medicines stored in their homes, and that teenagers report that stealing prescriptions from a parent’s medicine cabinet is sometimes the first step to addiction.

Youth Task Force coordinator Theresa Manning asked the group to remind Island residents about the prescription drug drop boxes now located at police stations in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury and West Tisbury.

“They are available for people to take unused medicine, drop them in the drop box, and have police take care of them,” Ms. Manning said.