TAMPA — Anti-drug agencies in Hillsborough County and across America hope a new drug disposal system will help stem the abuse of prescription medications.
Hillsborough County, Seminole County and Collier County are part of a nationwide pilot program and the first locations in Florida to test a system that enables prescription drug users to discard up to 90 pills at a time by placing them in a specially designed, biodegradable bag. The bag is then filled halfway with warm water and shaken until activated carbon absorbs and neutralizes the prescription drugs’ active chemicals.
Over the next year, each county will distribute 10,000 bags to their residents and conduct optional surveys to determine the program’s effectiveness.
Minneapolis-based Verde Technologies Inc. created what it calls the Deterra System to provide a solution to existing disposal methods, most of which rely on discarding unused medicine at designated collection sites.
“If you don’t have drug disposal sites in your community, these bags are a good alternative,” said Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance executive director Cindy Grant.
The program’s primary goals, Grant said, are to reduce accidental overdoses and decrease the number of young people who swipe prescription drugs from the medicine cabinets of parents and grandparents.
October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month, and Grant said one of its core principles is reminding adults to empty their medicine cabinets of unused pills.
“Kids do get ahold of those things,” she said.
Although Florida’s pill mill epidemic has receded in recent years after a statewide crackdown, Grant said Hillsborough and other counties across the state still have a problem. Among the pills coalitions would like to see disposed of in the bags, Grant said, are opioids such as Oxycodone and its slow-release sibling OxyContin.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 43,982 people died from drug overdoses in the United States in 2013; 16,235 of those deaths involved opioids. The CDC says 44 Americans die each day from prescription drug overdose.
Grant said she hopes the new drug disposal system will mean fewer emergency calls and fewer hospital stays, leading to economic savings.
Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America is the umbrella nonprofit organization overseeing each state’s individual coalitions.
“We really got excited about this project, said coalition spokeswoman Mary Elizabeth Elliott.
She said the Deterra System enables individual coalitions to discuss prescription drug abuse with one another and their respective communities. Elliott said the coalitions want to know why many prescription drug users either keep their leftover pills or carelessly discard them.
“It’s giving people the ability to pause and think about their own prescriptions,” she said.
Elliott said the three participating counties in Florida were selected because of their experience and successful track record with other drug-prevention initiatives.
“We wanted to select coalitions that we knew could do the work,” she said.
If the program is successful, Elliott said, CADCA plans to expand it to more counties throughout Florida and other states.
Thomas Towers, an assistant professor at the University of South Florida with a doctorate in pharmacy, said the Deterra System is good for the environment, overdose prevention and people who want to privately dispose of their pills.
“I think this is a really good thing that deters abuse,” he said.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has a drug collection site in each of its four patrol districts and in the front lobby of its operations center. Sheriff’s office spokesman Larry McKinnon said the Deterra System is far more efficient than some of the other drug disposal methods.
“I’ve seen packages where you have to load (medication) back in the mail and send it in; it’s not 100 percent sureproof,” he said. “It can get, as they say, ‘lost in the mail.’”