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South Valley Journal

New tool to fight opioid epidemic seeing success, officials say

Nov 27, 2019 12:41PM ● By Kirk Bradford

It’s time to talk displays the NarcX motto in regards to conversation about disposing extra medication. (Kirk Bradford/City Journals)

By Kirk Bradford | [email protected]

At the end of October, it had been one-year and the anniversary of the signing of HR 6—the historic federal legislation aimed at curbing the opioid epidemic. 

Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs spent time to team up with a Utah company to fight the opioid epidemic specifically in Riverton. At a press conference held at the Utah State Capitol Building, Staggs joined with politicians Eric Hutchings, Aimee Winder Newton, Intermountain Healthcare Community Health Manager Nathan Peterson and other leaders to discuss a new tool in the fight against the opioid epidemic.  

“We have done a lot over the years to try and address opioids, crime and substance abuse, but the sad truth is we are killing our own families. We are hurting or own families, we are hurting our kids, and we are hurting our neighbors,” Hutchings said.  

He said during Operation Rio Grande, a “vast majority” of the addicts interviewed (“numbers as high as 80%”) started from a legally prescribed substance.  

Staggs said there were 650 reported drug-related deaths statewide last year with many addicts using other people’s leftover prescription medication that they either stole or purchased on the black market. 

“Deaths from opioids now surpass deaths from motor vehicles and firearms,” he said. David Schiller is a former DEA ASAC with more than 30 years of experience with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. He led the investigation of pharmacies, hospitals, narcotic treatment providers and doctors. He is now the president and CEO of the company behind the disposal product called NarcX.

“The unfortunate reality is while we’re having this press conference, somebody’s going to die while we’re up here in Utah,” Schiller told reporters before describing his company’s new product. “NarcX is the first, it’s the only onsite method of destruction in the United States—in the world—that as soon as you put your unwanted pill, tablet, capsule or liquid into the NarcX container, it is immediately non-divertible. The second you put it in, you couldn’t go back in and take it out.”

That’s because the medication is dissolved in a chemical solution that renders harmless and no longer effective for its intended use. It is a product officials eventually hope to be issued right along with a prescription at the pharmacy. 

Brian Besser, DEA district agent in charge and co-chairman of the Utah Opioid Task Force, believes the introduction of a product like NarcX into devices around the community could have a big impact. 

“An innovative product like this because this could be an absolute game-changer,” he said. 

Intermountain Riverton Hospital is also a partner in the project. They’ll be distributing a thousand individual-sized NarcX bottles for home use. Intermountain Healthcare officials identified this problem among their patients and launched a campaign in 2017 called Use Only as Directed, which is still running today.

Since the campaign has been implemented, IHC has collected more than 30,000 pounds of disposed medications from drop-boxes at various pharmacies.

Intermountain Healthcare’s Peterson said he hopes the campaign can continue its current momentum to educate patients on the proper use of prescription drugs. 

“Looking at data drove us to make this program,” he said. “With Utah ranking within the top 10 for many years in terms of opioid overdose.” 

By educating people about the risk of addiction, asking for alternatives to opioids and safely disposing of leftover or expired medications, officials believe that could be the heart of the solution. 

“Addictions really are a medical problem,” Hutchins said. “Hitting them with a judicial stick doesn’t solve anything; you have to address what got them into the situation in the first place.” 

Evan Done, community outreach and empowerment coordinator for Utah Support Advocates of Recovery Awareness  told the City Journals he thinks “another product like this great for the toolbox against the fight against the opioid epidemic.” 

USARA was provided with another similar type of product called disposeRx that you fill the prescription bottle with, and it turns it to a gel-like substance as he described. They have had family members during sessions request it because they want to know how to protect themselves as well as deal with the possibility of a relapse. USARA also has it on standby for 12-step group “sponsors” who can end up in situations time to time where someone has had a slip. 

“Chemically dependent people know that raiding grandma’s medicine cabinet will always produce something to get high,” Done said. “Being able to remove the temptation a huge step, but it’s only one tool for the toolbox. Knowing your potential for addiction is critical, and there has been a lot in the news about this opioid epidemic. Alcohol kills far more people than opiates, and addiction doesn’t discriminate, but we aren’t talking about it. Understanding and access to recovery are what will fight this the best because addiction doesn’t discriminate.”

Staggs has seen success with the implementation of NarcX in the community. Staggs approved the placement of five to six kiosks in Riverton, which have been in operation for about a month. The drop-off sites are available in public places such as Riverton City Hall and fire departments.

The drop-off containers cost about $500 per unit. While this may be expensive for varying city budgets, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said he is open for dialogue in the legislation that will help Utah cities use state grants to implement these drug disposal containers in various communities. 

“If there’s anything that precludes a city from putting them where they want, we want to be able to help them and address that,” Thatcher said.

He is proposing to introduce two separate bills, one which will ban the flushing of prescription drugs and another to attach state funding to help cities pay for the drug disposal containers.