By LOIS KINDLE
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and Home Instead Senior Care have hosted annual collections of outdated, unused or unwanted prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications in the spring and fall for the past 14 years.
Operation Medicine Cabinet is held to keep people from flushing drugs down the toilet or sink or throwing them away in their trash to prevent the drugs from ending up in Hillsborough County’s water table or landfill, where they can eventually seep through the ground into its water supply.
This year’s spring event, scheduled to take place in April at partnering South Bay Hospital, had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But demand for Operation Medicine Cabinet has been so great that a July 17 collection has been set at the Sun City Center Community Hall, 1910 Pebble Beach Blvd. S. It will take place from 8 to 11 a.m., this time due to the summer heat. “We’ve had so many requests for it, and we had to be able to maintain proper safety measures,” said Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Community Resource Deputy Jeff Merry. “So we rescheduled April’s event to Community Hall and made it a drive-up to-drop off event only. No foot traffic will be allowed.”
Merry, Michelle Mortimer, community service aide, and Kristi Campbell, Home Instead Senior Care Brandon owner, will be on site to properly collect any solid or liquid prescription meds, pet medications, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and sharps, as long as the needles are in containers. All items residents drop off will be accepted in boxes or bags, no questions asked. There’s no need to remove labels or empty containers.
Everything collected is dropped into a receptacle, and each time it is filled, the items are dumped into large boxes and sealed like evidence so they can be taken into custody, stored at the HCSO District 2 office and then safely destroyed at the county incinerator. The drugs never leave the HCSO chain of custody.
The event has steadily grown since its start in 2006.
“Over the years, the amount we collect (during Operation Medicine Cabinet) has steadily increased,” said Campbell, who supplies all the boxes used at the event. “The first one brought in 300 pounds, and now we average around 600 per collection. Last December’s collection of 850 pounds was the largest to date.
“With COVID-19, people have been isolated and have not been going to the doctor’s office like before, so many of them could be taking drugs that are expired or no longer needed,” she added. “They could also be mixing up their medications or taking wrong dosages. It’s time for everyone to purge their medicine cabinets and contact their doctors for an update.”
Merry estimates Operation Medicine Cabinet has kept 6,000 to 7,000 pounds of medications from being disposed of improperly.
Southern Hillsborough County residents are welcome to drop off small amounts of pills or capsules at the Dist. 4 command office, 508 33rd St. SE, Ruskin, at any time. Liquids and sharps are prohibited at this location.
“Operation Medicine Cabinet is a very important service to our local community, and South Bay Hospital values the partnership we have in this event,” said Dan Bender, South Bay Hospital CEO. “We are looking forward to being able to host the operation at the hospital again this fall. I encourage people to take advantage of these opportunities to appropriately and safely dispose of unused or expired medications.”