More than 200 million prescriptions for opioids are written annually—enough medication for nearly every American to have a 30-day supply. In fact, the United States is the world’s biggest consumer of hydrocodone and oxycodone.
With so many prescriptions for opioids comes the risk of accidental poisonings and intentional abuse among children. Hospitalizations for opioid poisonings in children increased nearly twofold from 1997 to 2012, according to a Yale University study published in October 2016. Safe and timely unwanted drug disposal may be a means to help prevent diversion.
Since flushing leftover drugs down the toilet is frowned upon by environmental agencies, there are few alternatives for safe disposal by patients other than waiting for a “drug disposal day” in their community. In the past, pharmacists have told patients to dispose of unused or expired medications by putting them in cat litter, sawdust or used coffee grounds. These materials absorb some of the medication, but much of it still remains and can still be dug out of the garbage and abused.
But now a Mercer University pharmacy researcher and Verde Technologies have developed a low-cost, easy-to-use system called the Deterra Drug Deactivation System. Dr. Ajay Banga, professor of pharmaceutical sciences, co-director of the Center for Drug Delivery Research and the T.P. Haines Endowed Chair in Transdermal Delivery Systems at Mercer University, along with William Fowler, director of research and development and a founder of the Minnesota-based Verde Technologies that develops environmentally responsible solutions to pharmaceutical disposal, were the principal scientists who developed the system. The project was funded through Verde’s Phase 2 Small Business Innovation Research contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Just Add Water
The Deterra system is powered by patented MAT12 Molecular Adsorption Technology, which deactivates prescription drugs using proprietary activated carbon. The system is a small pouch that contains the granular activated carbon packaged within a water-soluble film reservoir. The bag can render drugs inactive by adsorption with the simple addition of warm tap water.
“By providing an effective means of adsorbing the active ingredients, this system will help keep waste pharmaceuticals from appearing in the water supply,” Banga said.
The system was tested with a total of 20 psychoactive medications in various formulations, including tablets, capsules, liquids, sublingual films and fentanyl transdermal patches. The system was highly effective adsorbing and deactivating all the drugs, with an average of 89 percent of the active pharmaceutical ingredients deactivated within the first eight hours, and more than 99 percent within 14 days. The activated carbon did not release the adsorbed drug even when exposed to large volumes of water and ethanol.
“We didn’t want to help solve the abuse and environmental challenges of unused and unwanted drugs while adding yet another plastic pouch to the landfill trash heap, so our pouch material contains an additive that makes the material bio-available in aerobic or anaerobic conditions that after time leaves close to zero environmental impact,” said Jason Sundby, president and CEO of Verde.
Another pharmaceutical company, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, has purchased and donated more than 1 million pouches to community groups in and around Missouri to help prevent abuse of prescription pain medications. Deterra also is available for purchase in numerous pharmacies around the country, including in Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores.
Kay Torrance is Director of Communications and Marketing
for the College of Pharmacy at Mercer University.