Law enforcement agencies across Tampa Bay will join a national effort today to rid medicine cabinets of powerful prescription drugs.
Old and unused prescription drugs often end up in the hands of abusers — either addicts who break into homes searching for their next high or children experimenting for the first time.
It's a problem so severe that the number of people seeking help for painkiller addiction jumped 400 percent from 1998 to 2008, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Last year, nearly 2,500 people fatally overdosed on prescription drugs — mostly painkillers like oxycodone and antianxiety drugs like Xanax. About 700 of those deaths occurred in the Tampa Bay area, according to a St. Petersburg Times analysis of medical examiner data.
Along with the potential for drug abuse and crime, officials say that drugs can also be toxic to the environment if poured into drains, flushed down toilets or thrown into landfills.
Organized by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and administered locally by police agencies, the event takes place at 4,000 locations across the nation. Similar to gun buy-back programs, the service is free and anonymous. Along with prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbal medications, veterinary drugs and needles are also accepted. All will be destroyed. During a statewide collection in August, the Pinellas County sheriff reported taking in a record 814 pounds of prescription drugs.