Friday, August 19, 2022

North Carolina company offers ‘wildly simple’ way to stem prescription drug overdose

Video: The DisposeRX is a simple and inexpensive attempt to prevent “diversion,” or misuse of prescription pills.

WILMINGTON — It’s becoming increasingly clear that heroin is only part of the current opioid epidemic. Over the last 15 years, prescription painkillers caused twice as many overdoses as heroin — almost 900 in North Carolina in 2015.

Overdose deaths caused by prescription opioids (blue), heroin (red) and cocaine (yellow); data courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. (Port City Daily photo / FILE IMAGE)
Overdose deaths caused by prescription opioids (blue), heroin (red) and cocaine (yellow); data courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. (Port City Daily photo / FILE IMAGE)

What’s perhaps more surprising is that over half of the prescription pills that caused overdoses came from friends and family. By comparison, less than 5 percent of overdoses stem from pills purchased illegally from a dealer.

Over half of prescription pill overdoses stemmed from medication obtained from friends and family, more than pills from illicit drug dealers, physician prescriptions and other sources combined. Data courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control. (Port City Daily photo / FILE IMAGE)
Over half of prescription pill overdoses stemmed from medication obtained from friends and family, more than pills from illicit drug dealers, physician prescriptions and other sources combined. Data courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control. (Port City Daily photo / FILE IMAGE)

Prescription overdoses show no sign of decreasing, despite new efforts by law enforcement and hospitals to host “drop-off” and “take-back” events for medication. These efforts aren’t always accessible, but according to William Simpson, that’s not the only issue.

Simpson, who is president of the DisposeRX company, believes there is a simpler way to handle what’s called “diversion,” which covers the broad range of ways prescription pills get used by people and in ways that weren’t intended. Diversion includes the seemingly innocuous – like loaning an unused painkiller to a friend – and the criminal – like stealing pills.

“We looked at the core issues of the opioid epidemic, and it wasn’t just access to collection and take back. You know, there’s diversion at take-back and disposal, we were looking for a simpler way to deal  with it,”  Simpson said.

That simple solution is a packet of powder that, when mixed with water, renders prescription pills unusable and seals them inside a pill bottle. It can also be used to turn liquid medication solid, or to encapsulate medication patches like fentantyl. The bottle can then be thrown away in the trash.

Medication vials become a disposal device, preventing the medication from being used. (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY DISPOSE RX)
Medication vials become a disposal device, preventing the medication from being used. (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY DISPOSE RX)

“We asked, how can we make it wildly simple. This is easy and it sequesters the drug completely,” Simpson said. “You can’t release the medication once it’s done, so there’s no risk of diversion.”

According to Simpson, DisposeRX’s goal was to find a solution to medication disposal that was easy, environmentally safe, and inexpensive. The packet cost about $1.50, and can sequester the contents of an average-sized pill bottle. The company also makes larger packets for industrial use at hospitals and medical facilities.

While the packets are available directly from DisposeRX, Simpson said the company is working to make them an integral part of the dispensing process at pharmacies and hospitals.

“We believe in the educational aspect of this, very strongly. It’s about 89 percent of prescriptions are face-to-face, and that where we’d like to see it available,” Simpson said. “It would be like the food packets that come with flowers, just part of the process.”

Simpson hopes to see products like the DisposeRX powder become a natural part of getting prescription medication.

“I’m of the age where I do put on my seat belt, but I do it after I start the car. But I see younger folks, they put on their seat belt first, it’s just how they were educated. So, I’d like to see it reach that point, where it’s part of the education on medications,” Simpson said.

The disposal powder is designed to handle a range of issues, including pills that have expired or could be dangerous to those who have switched to new medication. But the driving force behind the product is the opioid crisis. Simpson hopes that rendering prescription opioids useless at the “site of use” (i.e the medicine cabinet) will be much easier – and much more effective – than trying to fight prescription pill abuse in other ways.

“We looked at the epidemic, of these pills getting diverted, it’s a river, and at the top of the river, those first few drops and little streams, it’s possible to navigate it, to stop it. But when it reaches the bottom and opens up to the ocean, it’s much more difficult to navigate,” Simpson said.

DisposeRX is working with several states but Simpson said North Carolina was close to his heart.

“I’ve lived here for 27 years,” Simpson said. “I’m a North Carolinian, and I want to help my state.”

Simpson said the company was working with the City of Wilmington on possibly making the idea of products like DisposeRX part of the drug education delivered by law enforcement to area schools. He added that were also working with Olivia Herndon, director of public and mental health at the South East Area Health Education Center.

“Beyond any market concern, we want to make it available and be part of educating people,” Simpson said. “Any time we prevent the overdose of someone’s family member, someone’s friend, someone’s neighbor, we know that value of that.”


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.

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