A collaborative effort between the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and a Pine Bluff pharmacy that has been in the works for weeks came to a successful conclusion Thursday when a new prescription drug collection box made its debut.

Jefferson County Sheriff Gerald Robinson and Lelan Stice, the owner of Doctor’s Orders Pharmacy, removed the cover from the box, which is located inside the pharmacy at 2302 W. 28th Ave. and will be accessible seven days a week when the pharmacy is open.

Stice said a significant part of the opioid epidemic comes not from drugs like heroin but from the abuse of prescription medications, which, he said, are 50 times more powerful than heroin.

Arkansas, Stice said, is second in the nation in the number of drug overdoses reported, trailing only Mississippi.

He also mentioned the recent drug take-back event, which resulted in 250 pounds of prescription medications being turned in by Jefferson County residents. A total of 28,000 pounds of drugs were collected state-wide — enough to fill two 53-foot tractor-trailer rigs.

Robinson, who is retiring as sheriff Dec. 31 and is Jefferson County judge-elect, credited Tommy May, the retired CEO of Simmons Bank and current chairman of the Simmons Foundation, with pushing for the drug collection boxes after a teenager close to May died from a drug overdose.

“We wanted a way to get drugs off the street and Mr. May made it happen,” Robinson said.

He went on to say that one of his goals as sheriff has always been to make homes safer; one of those is to get expired or unwanted prescription drugs out of the home so they can be safely destroyed, rather than being sold or abused on the street.

Current Sheriff’s Maj. and Sheriff-elect Lafayette Woods Jr. said the national drug take-back initiative started 15 years ago, and each year, the amount of drugs turned in has increased.

“This year there were over five tons of drugs collected,” Woods said.

The collection box inside the pharmacy is the second box to be placed in service. There is also a collection box in the new sheriff’s office building located adjacent to the adult detention center. That building is in the final phases of interior construction and is expected to be completed soon.

Stice credited the West Pine Bluff Rotary Club with providing the funds to secure the box to the concrete floor of the business and said the sheriff’s office will have the only keys to the box. It will be emptied on a regular basis.