TAMPA — Jerry Meguar had been saving his old and unused prescription medications for months. He wanted to dispose of the pills properly.
On Saturday morning, loaded down by two plastic grocery bags full of medications, he walked into a Sweetbay Supermarket on North Dale Mabry Highway and dumped them into a large, locked metal container.
Placed there as part of the state's second annual Drug Take Back Day, the container is one of the ways Florida officials are trying to combat prescription drug abuse ravaging the state.
"Florida has been known as the epicenter of prescription drug abuse for a while," Attorney General Pam Bondi said at the event Saturday. "We know that has to stop.
The containers were placed for one day at 17 locations in the Tampa Bay area and at 70 across the state. The state partnered with the Collaborating and Acting Responsibly to Ensure Safety Alliance, the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators and area law enforcement agencies for the event.
Continuing the focus, Bondi spoke to medical and law enforcement professionals earlier Saturday morning at the Prescription Drug Abuse Summit held in Tampa, presented by the Alliance for Global Narcotics Training. This year's topic: "Prescribing in an Epidemic."
Every day in Florida, seven people die from prescription drug abuse, Bondi said.
She hopes new laws targeting pill mills and the creation of a prescription drug monitoring program can affect the staggering statistic.
"We passed what we feel is a very comprehensive plan to combat prescription drug abuse," Bondi said. "We knew we had to get tough administrative penalties for these doctors."
On Sept. 1, many medical practitioners will be required to report information about the controlled substances they dispense into a statewide database. The database is intended to help doctors spot the drug abusers and help law enforcement officers catch them.
While Florida may be the country's prescription drug abuse epicenter, the Tampa Bay area has become the state's largest problem spot.
"Pinellas County last year had more prescription drug abuse deaths than any other county in Florida," said the state special prosecutor for prescription drug trafficking, Dave Aronberg, at the Drug Take Back Day event.
At a Walgreens in St. Petersburg, 61-year-old James Krause dropped off a plastic bag full of old medicine, some from as far back as five years ago. Two St. Petersburg police officers emptied the pills into a large container.
Most of the pills were antibiotics, Krause said, but there were a few old painkillers.
"I've heard that people will flush them down the toilet," he said. "I don't want it getting into the water. Or have someone go through my trash for them. … Besides, [doctors] always give you too much, anyway."
Walgreens manager John Lyons said the store is happy to help with the event, which is ultimately aimed at addressing the prescription drug use problem that's so prevalent in the Tampa Bay area.
"We understand it's an epidemic," Lyons said. "This gives people a sense of community. It's one way they can help."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 661-2442 or [email protected]