The Maryland National Guard, Aberdeen Proving Ground, businesses, anti-drug organizations and local agencies are partnering to distribute to communities throughout Maryland 100,000 pouches designed to render unused prescription medication harmless.
Abuse of prescription painkillers, stemming in part from easy access to the drugs in people’s households, has been identified as a key factor in the ongoing deadly opioid epidemic in Harford County, the state and nation.
“Four out of five heroin addicts started with the misuse of prescription drugs,” Harford County government spokesperson Cindy Mumby said Thursday. “We want these medications out of the house when they’re no longer needed and disposed of properly.”
The Deterra Drug Deactivation System is a product of Minneapolis-based Verde Technologies. A user can put unused medication in the pouch, then add water and wait for 30 seconds. The bag can then be sealed and thrown away, according to the company website.
Activated carbon is in the Deterra pouches, which makes the drugs inert and then “ineffective for abuse and safe for disposal in landfills,” according to the site.
National Guard troops will take 60,000 of the pouches from APG Saturday to four armories around the state for distribution in the surrounding communities. The remaining 40,000 will be distributed to representatives of Baltimore, Cecil, Harford and Kent counties, plus members of the public attending APG Discovery Fest, a daylong festival when the community is welcomed onto the post, Lt. Col. Jody Brown, commander of the Kirk Army Health Clinic on APG, said.
The pouches were donated by “community and commercial organizations,” according to an APG news release.
Aberdeen Proving Ground, under the leadership of its senior commander, Maj. Gen. Randy Taylor, has been working with local and state leaders to combat the opioid crisis in recent months. The post hosted in September a National Opioid Crisis Summit at its Edgewood Area attended by about 300 people.
The Army post is a “platform” to get the word out and raise awareness in the community and support community efforts to fight opioid addiction, Brown said.
“We’re just sharing that information so that we can get these pouches to the community as another way to get prescription medications out of the wrong hands,” she said.
Brown said the National Guard will take its allotment of pouches to armories in Hagerstown, La Plata, Catonsville and Queen Anne’s County. Distributions of those pouches to surrounding communities have been coordinated ahead of time.
“The Maryland National Guard has been a great help in this [distribution] effort,” Brown said.
The Deterra-brand pouches will be distributed during the “community awareness safe disposal event” at Discovery Fest, according to a news release from Leidos and the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, or CADCA. Leidos, an international engineering, information technology and science company that has operations in Harford County, is partnering with CADCA and the state’s Opioid Operational Command Center to put on the disposal event, according to the release.
“We hope our partnership with CADCA will be a model for other communities and companies of how to not only enhance local prevention efforts, but also increase community awareness about the dangers of substance abuse,” Leidos chairman and CEO Roger Krone said in a statement.
More of the pouches will be available during a performance of the play “Addicted” at the post theater on Tuesday. The play has been performed in schools around Harford County to raise awareness of the dangers of opioid addiction, and next week’s showing will be for APG employees and their families, Brown said.
“We’re connecting those who have the pouches with those who need the pouches,” she said.
Working together to stem epidemic
About one third of those 12 and older who abuse drugs started with medications that had not been prescribed to them, according to CADCA, citing National Survey on Drug Use and Health data.
“The national opioid epidemic is going to take everyone working together,” Gen. Arthur T. Dean, chairman and CEO of CADCA, said in a statement. “Primary prevention efforts are needed now more than ever.”
Mumby, the Harford County spokesperson, said Harford County Executive Barry Glassman appreciates APG’s partnership.
“He believes that it takes everyone working together to address the opioid crisis,” Mumby said.
She said Harford County has been a leader in taking back prescription drugs, having collected 37,451 pounds through community take-back events, turn-in receptacles at local police stations and other methods since September 2010.
“The DEA has told us that the take-back that we do in our Bel Air parking lot is the number-one turn-in spot in the state of Maryland,” she said, referring to the annual collection event in the county administration building parking lot.
This year’s event is scheduled for Saturday, April 28, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 220 S. Main St. in Bel Air.
“This is a public health issue, a public safety issue and an environmental issue,” Mumby said.
Harford County is expected to get 10,000 pouches during the APG event Saturday. They will be distributed during the drug take-back day, plus some will be in the Harford County Sheriff’s Office HOPE, or Heroin Overdose Prevention Effort, House trailer, and others will be distributed during a county drug prevention symposium in June, Mumby said.