New drug bag could help public health officials

Alaska has another tool in the fight against opioid abuse.

Public health officials are distributing thousands of drug-disposal bags that are safe and easy to use.

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They’re sealable pouches containing active carbon. When drugs and water are added, the carbon neutralizes them. The biodegradable bags can be sealed and thrown out with household trash.

Michelle Overstreet is executive director of My House, a Wasilla-based organization that helps homeless youth. She told those at a recent Alaska Municipal League meeting in Juneau that it’s important to dispose of drugs safely at any time, not just official drop-off days.

“We’ve had parents coming in to get those, we’ve had grandparents coming in to get those,” Overstreet said. “People are excited about having a way to get rid of those that isn’t throwing them in the garbage or down their septic system, which then can leach into their well.”

Overstreet said the bags are used to dispose of drugs turned over by those wanting help, as well as those with unused prescriptions, a frequent target of addicts.

A company that makes pain-killers is contributing 25,000 disposal bags to the state. Officials say they’re being distributed to hospitals, clinics, tribal governments and others who can get them to all parts of Alaska.

At the municipal league meeting, Dr. Jay Butler, the state’s chief medical officer, said his agency is sending a thousand bags to its clinics.

“I recognize that some of our public health centers don’t have full-time staffing anymore. But that is one of the ways we want to get these into the communities,” Butler said. “Or if we can provide some directly to you, we’d be happy to do that also.”

Gov. Bill Walker declared the opioid epidemic a state emergency earlier this month. The effort includes distribution of 5,000 naloxone kits, which can stop opioid overdoses.

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Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska - Juneau
Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.