Pill bags let users dispose of prescription drugs safely

Disposal pouch that makes drugs inert being distributed free in Montgomery County.

Expired prescription drugs can pose a danger to the public and the environment, so how do you dispose of them properly?

Montgomery County may have an answer.

A new drug disposal pouch, undergoing review by the Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services (ADAMHS), renders old drugs nearly inert — useless to a user — and safe for landfill disposal.

Though not the biggest weapon mounted against the region’s opioid epidemic, the pouches also decrease the likelihood old pills will be diverted to addicts, said Joyce Jones, director of marketing for Ziks Family Pharmacy in Dayton that received an initial stock of 60 bags from ADAMHS to distribute free to patrons.

“The whole idea is to be able to quickly get rid of meds so they’re not laying around the home,” Jones said.

Named Deterra, the pouches come in sizes to deactivate from 15 to 450 pills. The bags are made out of recycled material designed to biodegrade in a landfill.

How it works

The bags contain a proprietary form of activated carbon. When mixed with water, the carbon neutralizes 98 percent of a drug’s potency, according to the manufacturer.

Brenda Screws, a Ziks pharmacist, said warm tap water added to the pouch activates the charcoal and deactivates the drugs’ main ingredients.

“It loses its strength and basically decomposes,” she said.

ADAMHS purchased 400 Deterra Drug Deactivation System bags to distribute free at events and through two Dayton pharmacies: Dayton Pharmacy and Ziks.

The ADAMHS board will vote Wednesday how to divvy up a $50,000 Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services grant earmarked for the purchase of the bags and drug lock boxes.

‘A very dangerous thing’

Cost to the county of each 45-pill bag bag ran $2.79 said Ann Stevens, spokeswoman for ADAMHS.

Studies show about 60 percent of people of people who abuse medications get them from family and friends.

“A lot of the problem with unused medications is that people can get a hold of them,” Stevens said. “Having unused medications in your home is a very dangerous thing.” 

Don’t flush

Many people mistakenly believe it’s safe to flush unused medications down a toilet. However, old prescriptions disposed of in a city sewer or rural septic system are sure to escape into nature, said Ohio EPA spokeswoman Dina Pierce.

“Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to fully remove pharmaceuticals, which means chemicals in the drugs are discharged into waterways where they may affect wildlife and human health,” Pierce said.

While the bags offer one solution, Ohio EPA officials also recommend dropping unused or expired medications at take-back programs offered by most law enforcement agencies and pharmacies, as well as collection events. If drugs must be put in the garbage, they should be made unpalatable by mixing first with cat litter or coffee grounds, Pierce said.

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