A few months ago, I took all of the expired over-the-counter and prescription drugs out of the medicine cabinet and unused painkillers that were in a lock box at my house and put them in a little purple plastic bag. 

I filled it up with water and threw it in the trash.

It was really easy. I was surprised at how old some of my medicines were and how quickly some of the cold medicines had expired.

Even though I've been a fairly regular user of the Summit County Public Health D.U.M.P. boxes, which are set up at 18 locations around the county (mostly police stations) for safe disposal of expired medicines, there were some old things lurking in my medicine cabinet.

The purple bag I used was one of nearly 40,000 bags that have been distributed this year by Summit County Community Partnership in an effort to get opioids and other drugs off the streets.

The program is almost a year old and almost all of the pouches have been distributed or awaiting distribution through more than 40 partners such as hospitals, schools and police departments. They are available for free at all Acme Fresh Market pharmacies.

The bags come in two sizes. The purple one is for up to 45 pills, 6 ounces of liquid medicine or six medicine patches, or a smaller one, a bluish-gray color, for 10 to 15 pills. They were donated by Millinckrodt, a pharmaceutical company, as part of a nationwide effort. The local partnership is working on funding to buy more bags for a second year. The pouches deactivate drugs and render the chemical compounds safe for landfills.

Reducing opioids is the main focus, said Darryl Brake, executive director of the Summit County Community Partnership. But getting rid of other medicines is just as important, he said.

Kids can have parties where they all dump whatever they've found in their parents' medicine cabinets in a bowl and “reach in there and grab them and see what happens,” Brake said.

Something as simple as properly disposing of unused drugs can help the opiate problem, said Alyce Jennings, the partnership's director of development.

“Every single person in this community can do their part to help,” she said. “We are seeing that the first usage in Summit County of alcohol and marijuana is in fifth grade and before they go buy weed or heroin, they're going through the prescription medicine.”

The pouches are part of what the partnership calls the Deterra Project. Once all are used, it will eliminate 1.3 million pills in Summit County. The pouches include postcards that the partnership requests people send back to gather statistics.

According to data gathered from last October through July of this year from about 400 postcards that have been returned, the breakdown for medications disposed of in the pouches is 26 percent narcotics/opioids, 48 percent other prescription medications, 17 percent over the counter, 6 percent vitamins and 3 percent unsure.

Jennings and Brake said they are pleased with those numbers and said its possible the narcotics/opioids number could be higher if people are not sure that medicines they are throwing away are truly narcotics.

Another interesting statistic, taken from the postage-paid postcards, is that 67 percent of those who used the pouches said they don't clean out their medicine cabinets regularly. Twenty-nine percent said they clean out their cabinets on a regular basis (there's no indication of what time frame regular is).

Lastly, the highest percentage of returned disposal pouch postcards have come from the 44203 ZIP code, which includes Barberton and Norton. The ZIP code is No. 1 in Summit County for the number of opioid overdoses in 2016 and 2017.

Brake thinks people in Barberton and Norton have a “heightened awareness and are working to get this out of their community.”

Barberton Police Chief Vince Morber said that is also an indication that the message is getting through.

A few years ago, Morber partnered with Barberton funeral homes to ask loved ones planning funerals to bring in the deceased person's unused pills to give to police for disposal. Morber said the response has been good. His department will also make house calls to pick up unused medicines.

Brake said narcotics should be locked up, perhaps in a safe box for numerous reasons including keeping them safe from family and visitors.

You may not be aware that your friend has a drug problem and they may take something from your bathroom cabinet, he said.

“Often times they're sharp enough not to take all of the pills, but just some of them. The other thing is if they're skilled enough, they can leave the bathroom and slip into the bedroom and go into a drawer and find it real quick,” he said.

I've already got my second purple disposal bag waiting in my medicine cabinet for my next cleanup.

Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty.