Health experts say small black foil bags shown off at a news conference Wednesday are key components to combating the opioid epidemic.
The Deterra bags are designed to safely dispose of medications that kill thousands of people in the U.S. each year. If the drugs can be taken from medicine cabinets and thrown away, they can be kept from users who might abuse them, officials said.
Rx Abuse Leadership Initiative Indiana, also known as RALI, announced the donation of 15,000 of the disposal kits to the Drug and Alcohol Consortium of Allen County.
“Safe drug disposal could keep someone prone to addiction from ever trying an opioid,” Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry said in a statement. “Safe disposal could save lives and, thanks to these resources and education, we are another step closer to controlling this epidemic.”
More than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Of those, more than 49,000 – about 68 percent – involved opioids, the federal research agency reported.
Nearly 40 percent of the deaths involving opioids were attributed to prescription medications such as OxyContin, government statistics show.
At least 127 people died from drug overdoses last year in Fort Wayne, up from 68 the year before. Many of those can be traced to opioids, according to police and the Fort Wayne-Allen County Health Department.
Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan said aggressive tactics are needed to fight the problem, including education initiatives, treatment and getting rid of the problem prescriptions.
“There are a lot of drugs out there that we keep on hand,” she said. “We all know that's not right. It's downright dangerous with pain pills.
“This is the worst public health problem I've seen.”
Arthur Dean, a former Army general who is the chairman and CEO of Alexandria, Virginia-based Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, agrees.
“The opioid epidemic is going to take a comprehensive approach that employs multiple strategies to create population-level reductions to this problem,” he said in a news release.
One strategy is the disposal kits, into which drugs and water are placed. “Activated carbon” inside the pouch makes the drugs unusable.
“It will render this inert,” Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of American Vice President Raiko Mendoza said during a demonstration Wednesday. “You're not going to be able to go back into this bag and fish it out.”
Consortium Executive Director MaryClare Akers said the Virginia nonprofit contacted her about two months ago regarding the disposal kits. She said they will be distributed free to individuals and organizations, including home health care agencies and hospitals.
Individuals or organizations can get the bags by calling the consortium at 422-8412.
“We will make sure anyone who needs these bags will get them,” Akers said.
Packages of three bags range from $14.97 for 2-ounce pouches to $20.97 for 20-ounce pouches on Deterra's website.