In Brief: Why DeTerra could be a key to ending the opiate epidemic

by M. Sophie Franchi

October is National Medicine Safety Month, and October 22 is Drug Take Back Day. To celebrate, read about DeTerra!


What is DeTerra and how does it work?

You know that half-finished bottle of Percocet hanging out in your medicine cabinet since your wisdom tooth extraction last month? Or the bottle of liquid Morphine and box of Fentanyl patches leftover from a recently deceased relative who was on pain management treatment? DeTerra is a substance used to deactivate those pharmaceuticals in order to protect public health and the environment. The DeTerra system includes a ziplock bag of activated carbon powder, to which you add unused pharmaceuticals and water and wait ten seconds. Then — Poof! They disappear. It’s like magic. Except it’s science.


Why can’t we just throw leftover drugs in the garbage or flush them down the toilet?

Because it’s bad for the environment, and potentially for public health. A wide array of pharmaceuticals including but not limited to pain killers, antibiotics, hormones, anticonvulsants and mood stabilizers have been found in the water supply of 24 major metropolitan areas in the US, according to an investigation by the Associated Press published in 2008. While the effect on human health is still unknown due to a lack of research on the subject, several studies around the world have shown negative effects on fish and other wildlife who depend upon pharmaceutical-laden water to survive.



Who will DeTerra help?

Aside from keeping drugs out of our water supply, the hope is that DeTerra will help prevent people from taking drugs that aren’t theirs. Most importantly, local officials are looking at the potential for DeTerra to keep people from becoming addicted to opiates or from dying opioid-overdose related deaths. Heroin addicts often become addicted to pain pills before moving on to harder drugs. Too often, those painkillers are taken by youth from their parents’ medicine cabinets. And Fentanyl, which is 15 times stronger than heroin, has been showing up in toxicology reports from OD victims at an alarming rate.


Why is it important for Akron?

Akron is in the middle of a huge opiate epidemic. From 2013 to 2014, Ohio experienced an 18.9 percent increase in drug overdose deaths, with opioids being the main drug causing those deaths. Summit County had 97 opioid overdose deaths in 2015 alone, according to the Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office. One reason for the high rate of overdose is that drug dealers are cutting their products with Fentanyl with the intent to create a stronger drug. Heroin users then unwittingly use the drug like they would heroin, but they don’t have the tolerance for the Fentanyl-laced drug. DeTerra can help keep excess Fentanyl off the streets and out of the hands of youth who might not realize the strength of the little patch they found in grandma’s medicine cabinet. And of course it will help prevent youth from becoming addicted to opiates in pill form, which could in turn keep them from seeking out heroin when they run out of the leftover pills.



16 Northeast Ohio Acme Fresh Market Pharmacies will provide DeTerra kits to the public. Acme pharmacies distribute one prescription drug disposal pouch with each short-term opiate prescription filled. They also have drug disposal pouches available to anyone who requests them. If you can’t get your hands on a DeTerra kit, you can take leftover meds to your local  law-enforcement agency, and they’ll use these kits to dispose of it responsibly.