Inspira Health Network Battles Opioid Crisis with Proper Drug Disposal

March 14, 2017 | Health Care, Law & Public Safety
Nonprofit Inspira Health Network has created Deterra, which uses charcoal to neutralizes drugs before disposal.

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

The opioid crisis may have found its ounce of prevention in this small, zip-close pouch. It’s called Deterra, and nonprofit Inspira Health Network is making sure it gets into the hands of people who need it.

“It’s a very simple product,” explained Inspira’s VP of Community Relations Carolyn Heckman. “It uses activated charcoal, which is not harmful to anyone. In fact, we often use that in our emergency rooms as a poison antidote. It’ll make you throw up.”

That charcoal neutralizes drugs, rendering them ineffective before disposal. Other companies are also using this technique.

A Deterra ad explains how to use the system: “Simply place unused medication in the environmentally-friendly pouch. Fill halfway with warm tap water. Wait 30 seconds. Seal tightly and gently shake. Then, put in the trash receptacle.”

The pouches retail for less than $7 each. Inspira bought in bulk — a whopping 50,000 bags for local YMCAs, police departments and their own locations.

According to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World, 2,500 new teens begin abusing prescription pain relievers every day in the U.S. And President and CEO of Inspira John DiAngelo says three out of four heroin users started with prescription drugs.

“I mean, if we can stop just one of these people — either it’s a kid or somebody who might go on to become a heroin addict and we can stop them from that, the investment’s worth it,” DiAngelo said.

Penns Grove Police Chief Ted Stranahan agrees. The pouches gave his department an easy answer to a common challenges. For example, a resident passed away, leaving the family with a large quantity of leftover prescriptions.

“Responding officers came, the family was there, they were able to gather all the medication and use a couple of the packets to destroy the medication — neutralize it and dispose of it in the regular trash,” Stranahan said.

That also meant the drugs didn’t have to be taken in by the police and held onto until they could be properly disposed of. Stranahan says the less people who have to handle the drugs — and might be tempted by them — the better.

“The officers are able to document it on their body camera — that the medication was disposed of — dumped in, neutralized and disposed of,” he said.

Offering Deterra pouches can also encourage people to connect with the police to dispose of their drugs. Residents may be uncomfortable showing their prescriptions or even having the drugs on them in the presence of law enforcement, but now they don’t have to.

“This offers them an opportunity to take this with them, home, and then destroy it in the privacy of their own home,” Stranahan explained. “If they need more, they’ll come back and get them from us. They’re free.”

There’s another benefit to Deterra’s system — an environmental one. In their research, Inspira Health Network found that a primary way people dispose of prescription drugs is by flushing them down the toilet. And according to the International Joint Commission, which oversees shared water between the U.S. and Canada, water treatment facilities remove less than half of the prescription drugs found in sewage. So whatever method of disposal you use, think twice about how you discard your prescription drugs.