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Hampton Roads residents may soon have a free, safe way to get rid of leftover prescription painkillers, based on an initiative announced Tuesday by State Attorney General Mark R. Herring.
At a press conference in Roanoke, Herring said 80,000 Deterra drug-deactivation kits have been donated for statewide distribution by Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals. Each kit has the potential to deactivate up to 45 pills, which could translate into as many as 3.6 million leftover prescription opiate pills in Virginia, according to a release. By acting with tap water, the kits also dispose of the drugs in a way that does not contaminate the environment.
“We know that, in many cases, this opioid crisis has its roots in the medicine cabinet,” Herring said in a release. “Something as simple as a sports injury, dental work, or a surgery can expose a person to powerful opioid medications that can eventually lead to abuse, dependence and addiction. Once the pills run out or become too expensive, people find themselves looking for more illicit drugs to support their habit and they find cheap, potent, and inconsistent heroin on the streets.”
The drug-deactivation kits will be distributed in two ways, beginning Nov. 1.
The Virginia Department of Health will circulate roughly 50,000 of them, without any cost to the state or the recipients. The remaining 30,000 will be available to local hospitals, law enforcement agencies, pharmacies and nonprofits, who can apply online on Herring’s website.
The exact number destined for Hampton Roads has yet to be determined, but there should be several thousand, according to spokesperson Michael Kelley.
A spokesperson for the Virginia Beach Department of Public Health was not immediately available for comment.
Herring’s initiative comes amid heightened scrutiny of opiate addiction, dependency and treatment.
During the first four months of 2016, emergency rooms in Virginia treated 500 patients for heroin overdoses, an increase of 250 percent from 2015, the release said.
Heroin overdose deaths have also skyrocketed statewide, rising from 48 in 2010 to 342 in 2015, a spike of 600 percent.
Misuse of prescription opioids has been linked to opioid addiction, including heroin. Roughly 50 percent of young people who use heroin started by abusing prescription painkillers, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
“Disposal devices such as the ones to be distributed are an important part of a collaborative, multi-part effort in Virginia to curb the epidemic of addiction,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine said in a release.
Separately, “Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict,” an FBI documentary about the prescription drug and heroin epidemic, will screen at the Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library, 4100 Virginia Beach Blvd., on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at 6 p.m. After the film, there will be presentations and a discussion featuring experts in criminal justice and addiction treatment.