Could part of the solution to the opioid crisis cost $1.50? One NC company thinks so

This Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017 photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen in New York.
This Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017 photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen in New York. AP

A fledgling company based in Southern Pines believes it might have a solution to part of the country’s ongoing opioid epidemic — and it only costs $1.50.

DisposeRx Inc. says it has developed a compound that can, when combined with water, seal unused and unwanted prescription drugs in a biodegradable goo that makes them impossible to use and can be thrown in the trash.

John Holaday, the company’s co-founder, said he drew his inspiration from the small packet of plant food that often comes with store-bought flowers and is added to water to make the flowers last longer.

Ideally for the company, a packet of DisposeRx would be included in the same bag as a prescription when it’s picked up from the pharmacy with the costs spread throughout the medicine supply chain. It has distributed more than 10,000 of the packets already.

As many as 40 percent of American households have expired or unwanted medicine. Taking prescription opioids nonmedically is considered one of the ways people get addicted to drugs. Unwanted or expired prescription drugs are an easy source for those wanting to abuse medications, according to the National Associations of Board of Pharmacy.

“Our passion is to find a way to stop this cycle of addiction,” Holaday said.

“What we’re here to do is offer a solution and offer a tool for patients to break the chain of illicit access,” said DisposeRx president William Simpson, who lives in Southern Pines.

More than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016, according to tentative data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2015, more than 22,000 deaths involved prescription opioids, up from about 19,000 in 2014. In North Carolina, more than 12,000 people have died from opioid-related overdoses between 1999 and 2016, according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

“We want to make a difference. So let’s say we only get 10 percent of them. Ten percent is a lot of lives to save,” Holaday said.

President Donald Trump, who campaigned on fighting drug addiction, declared the opioid crisis a “public health emergency” on Thursday during an event at the White House and promised that his administration will take measures to combat the epidemic.

“As Americans we cannot allow this to continue,” Trump said.

DisposeRx is working with pharmacies, hospital chains, law enforcement agencies, hospices and lawmakers to get its product in distribution. The company has donated samples to hospices, small drug advocacy groups and some hospital chains, hoping to gain a foothold in the developing market.

“It’s important to get these drugs out of circulation,” said Rep. Richard Hudson, whose district includes Southern Pines and who filmed a public service announcement for National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Saturday.

Hudson, who said he has heard stories of abusers going to open houses and stealing medicine, cited the company as one that could help in the fight against opioid abuse. “There’s no silver bullet,” said Hudson, who attended Trump’s White House announcement.

DisposeRx is not the first company to consider a similar solution. Minneapolis-based Verde Technologies’ Deterra Drug Deactivation System deactivates the drug by combining carbon with the drug molecules and water. The company has sold more than 15 million of its patented pouches since its inception in 2011, said Jason Sundby, the president and CEO of Verde.

The pouches are available in three sizes to the public — a three-pack costs between $10 and $20 from online retailers — and are for sale at Walmart pharmacies nationwide and at online retailers, he said. The company also sells industrial-size pouches for hospitals and other places with large quantities of drugs.

“We’re trying to get consumer awareness. They have never had something like this before. Doing nothing is our competitor,” Sundby said. “We want to get people to get drugs out of their home.”

Each company believes its product is a superior solution, but both say they have the same ultimate goal — getting drugs out of home medicine cabinets safely.

Government action to deal with the opioid crisis could help these at-home drug disposal companies.

DisposeRx compared its product to now-commonplace child-resistant caps on over-the-counter medicine and prescription drugs. The inclusion of child-resistant caps became law with the Poison Prevention Packaging Act of 1970, which was passed to help prevent accidental poisoning of children from typical household products.

In Lexington, Kentucky, where DisposeRx has an office, state Sen. Alice Kerr has filed a bill for the 2018 session that would require “a practitioner or a pharmacist to sell or distribute a nontoxic composition, which permanently captures the controlled substance, for the sequestration or deactivation and disposal of unused, unwanted, or expired controlled substances anytime a controlled substance is sold or distributed.”

DisposeRx bills its product as safer and easier than “take back” events, which require patients to travel to a drop-off location that will secure the drugs. It also touts the environmental benefits, given that the drugs can cause problems when they enter the water system.

The Food and Drug Administration recommends “take back” events, such as Saturday’s nationwide event. Failing that, the agency has instructions for mixing unused medicines with “unpalatable substances” such as dirt, kitty litter or used coffee grounds, placing the mixture in a bag and tossing it in household trash.

The FDA also suggests in very rare cases flushing medicine down the toilet. The Environmental Protection Agency, however, says not to flush drugs down the toilet or pour them down the drain unless the label specifically instructs you to do so.

“The FDA says flush it. The EPA says don’t even think about it. The DEA says take it to the pharmacy,” Holaday said.

Said Simpson: “You’ve got so many conflicting people telling you what to do with your medications. It’s very confusing.”

Brian Murphy: 202.383.6089; Twitter: @MurphinDC