By Andrea Alvarez

PETERSBURG, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) – Local hospitals are working with law enforcement to curb a drug misuse problem by taking action in Pinellas County. Experts are weighing in.

“One of these daily dispensers has candy and one of them has medicine in it,” said Petra Stanton, Safe Kids Supervisor at John’s Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. The hospital is teaming up with St. Petersburg police officers to get drugs out of homes and off the streets across Tampa Bay.

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“In middle school and high school, children will probably know what they are looking for, so having it locked up out of reach are really the key points here so there’s no confusion,” explained Stanton.

In their effort to curb drug misuse happening locally, experts are aiming early and say it could result in less overdoses.

“If the children do not have access to it, they do not develop addiction or addiction later in life,” she said. “Let’s say a high school child knows his grandma take “XYZ” drug. He knows where to get it. And he knows if she has 15 bottles of it, will she really miss one?”

About 50,000 children end up in the E.R. each year from getting into medicine cabinets without supervision, according to the CDC. And local law enforcement is backing healthcare workers.

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“Any time you collect controlled substances, prescription medications, etcetera, you want to have law enforcement present,” she added. “There’s a potential that it attracts people that are not supposed to get ahold of these substances, therefore you want to have experts, law enforcement experts that can deal with that type of situation.”

According to the CDC, an increase in fatal drug overdoses during the pandemic was recorded and is only worsening according to the American Medical Association. The CDC says those with substance abuse disorders face a higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19.

“If people have further health issues or long-term issues, they would have probably accumulated more medication than they would have hoped,” said Stanton.

The hospital is hosting a prescription drop off on April 30th to help curb drug misuse. The drop off will be held at the Child Development and Rehabilitation Center parking lot down the street from the hospital located at 880 6th Street South In St. Petersburg from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

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On National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, you can drive up and drop off your unused or expired prescription medications. Only pills, capsules and tablets will be accepted. No liquids, injectables or inhalants will be accepted. St. Petersburg Police will dispose of medications safely and securely – no questions asked. The event will be outside, contactless and volunteers will be wearing masks and other protective equipment as they collect these items from the community.