Dave Cooper has six unwanted medications he has long wanted to dispose of, but wasn’t sure how to go about it.

Cooper, 92, of Fairlawn, who no longer drives, was pleased to hear about a new Summit County program that will provide drug-disposal pouches that deactivate unwanted medication and make them safe to throw away.

The pouches will be provided free.

“That’s for me,” Cooper said of the new effort.

Cooper is an example of the residents the program, officially launched Wednesday, is hoping to reach.

Local officials provided details about the new effort during a news conference Wednesday at Summit County Public Health. The program aims to make it easier to dispose of unwanted prescription medications, particularly prescription opioids that research has shown can be a gateway to heroin use.

“The pouches provide a safe and responsible method for consumers to dispose of leftover medication,” said Darryl Brake, executive director of Summit County Community Partnership, an agency that fights drug abuse and is spearheading the pouch program.

The new drug-disposal program launch was one of several events held in the Akron area to mark International Overdose Awareness Day. Others included a four-hour broadcast on WAKR (1590 AM) to provide information about efforts to fight the heroin crisis and vigils in Stow, Medina and Wadsworth.

The disposal pouches are the latest of numerous local efforts to respond to a recent alarming spike in opioid overdose deaths.

A national survey of U.S. adults who used opioids showed that nearly six out of 10 had or expect to have leftover medication, according to findings published in the June edition of the JAMA Internal Medicine journal. More than two-thirds of those who abused prescription pain relievers in 2012-13 got them from relatives or friends, according to the 2013 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The pouches will allow people to drop in unwanted pills, add water, seal the pouch and throw it away. A carbon substance in the pouch will deactivate the pills, making it safe to dispose of in a landfill. The process turns the pills into mush and the pouch itself is biodegradable.

Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, a global drug company, purchased and donated 40,000 pouches to Summit County. This is part of an ongoing effort by the company, which has provided 1 million pouches to communities and organizations, to help with the opioid crisis, said Kevin Webb, the company’s director of advocacy relations.

“We can help prevent unused medications from falling into the wrong hands,” Webb said during the news conference, holding up a disposal bag for the public officials in attendance to see.

If all of the 40,000 pouches are used, this will safely dispose of 1.3 million pills, according to a news release.

The pouches will be distributed in several ways, including:

• Acme: The grocery store chain will provide 12,000 pouches through the pharmacies in its 16 locations. Pharmacy customers prescribed opioids will be given a pouch. Other Acme customers also can request a pouch at the pharmacies.

• Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority: Pouches will be provided to seniors living in public housing in Akron.

• Paramedics/police: First responders throughout Summit County will give pouches to the family members of people who overdose.

Brake said the pouches are expected to last about a year. His agency is hoping to gather data during that time and use those statistics to generate funds for more pouches.

“We want to keep it going until we have changed the mindset of the community,” he said, adding this is expected to take three to five years.

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan was unable to attend the news conference because he was in Columbus on Wednesday, meeting with Gov. John Kasich to discuss the heroin problem.

James Hardy, Horrigan’s chief of staff, said Horrigan wanted to make sure Kasich was aware of the opioid overdose crisis in Akron and Summit County and to pledge Akron’s help in any initiatives the state decides to undertake in response to the issue.

“We want to be first in line,” Hardy said.

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmithabj and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/swarsmith.