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September 26, 2017

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Pouches aim to take leftover prescription drugs out of valley homes

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Ricardo Torres-Cortez

Students of Roseman University’s College of Pharmacy demonstrate how drug deactivation pouches work Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. The school was given 60,000 of the packages in an effort to counter opioid abuse in Southern Nevada.

A student poured warm water into a cup, opened a purple plastic package, dumped the pills — Tic Tacs on this occasion — and streamed water on them before sealing the pouch.

She was demonstrating how easy it is to render unused or expired prescription pills useless in a matter of seconds in a lab at a pharmacy school in Henderson on Thursday.

The pouch was one of 60,000 donated to the Roseman University College of Pharmacy by Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals.

It's an effort to help combat the opioid epidemic in Southern Nevada, which is part of a national problem, said state Sen. Patricia Farley, who spoke before the presentation.

A student narrating the presentation explained the simple chemistry of the process: The drug contents bind to charcoal inside the pouch and are deactivated. The pouch can then be sealed and discarded with the household trash, its contents rendered safe for landfills.

The school said it will distribute them to local families at community events, such as health fairs.

Farley cited Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stats that show opiates have become an increasing problem. For instance, there was about a 200 percent increase of opioid-related deaths from 2001 to 2014.

The same numbers show that 61 percent of all drug-overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2014 were caused by opiates, including heroin, according to the CDC.

Even if it's just through health care costs associated with opioids, the epidemic affects everyone, Farley said.

A CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey last year showed that 17 percent of those questioned had admitted to taking prescription medications without a doctor's prescription.

"Where are our youth getting their prescription drugs from?" Assemblyman Nelson Araujo said during the event. "Frankly I think the answer for many of them — potentially — can be that they're getting them from their parents' medicine cabinet" or friends, and using them without knowing the consequences, he said.

"It's about prevention, it's about making sure that we make an extended effort to tackle this growing epidemic of opioid addiction and that we start here in our state," Araujo said.

If the packages are used effectively in Southern Nevada, about 2.7 million pills will be safely discarded, Mallinckrodt's Derek Naten said. About a million packages have been donated across the U.S.

"We recognize that prescription drug abuse and misuse is complex and a confounding problem and no one policy initiative or program will solve it,” Naten said. “Any solution will require a comprehensive approach."

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