State lawmakers hope to follow Riverton Mayor Staggs’ footsteps in combating opioid crisis

SALT LAKE CITY — A month after Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs announced an initiative to reduce stockpiling and misuse of opioids in his community, the city’s efforts have gained the attention of state leaders.

Last month, in partnership with the Utah-based medication disposal organization NarcX, Staggs announced the city was placing NarcX kiosks that safely dispose of unused drugs in some of the city’s public buildings.

“As a community leader I viewed my responsibility to try to do something, to not wait for a program or for some other person to take action,” Staggs said at a news conference at the Utah Capitol on Wednesday.

Republican state lawmakers Sen. Daniel Thatcher and Rep. Eric Hutchings announced they have opened two bill files to combat the state’s ongoing opioid crisis during the Government Operations Interim Committee meeting Wednesday morning.

Hutchings, of Kearns, said his planned bill would address difficulties communities might face obtaining the kiosks, and could potentially start a grant program to assist rural communities that might not have the resources to address opioid misuse.

Thatcher, of West Valley City, said he plans to run a bill that would prohibit the improper disposal of pharmaceuticals and set up an education campaign to help people understand the appropriate way to get rid of medication. He also plans to address how disposing of drugs down the sink or toilet contaminates the local water supply.

“This started with Riverton city, recognizing there was a problem and stepping up and doing something about it,” Thatcher said.

Historically, Riverton is the first U.S. city where the kiosks have been rolled out. Christian Kasteler, NarcX lead science officer, said cities like Layton and South Salt Lake have expressed interest in the kiosks.

Leland Myers, executive director of the Wasatch Front Water Quality Council, said he strongly supports any effort that keeps unwanted and unused drugs from being flushed down into the sewer.

“Once you flush them down, they stay out there a long time,” Myers said. “And we don’t know what serious impacts that creates, because there haven’t been enough studies.”

Hutchings noted the solution itself is environmentally friendly — it can even be thrown in the garbage without impacting the environment.

Currently, three kiosks can be found at Riverton City Hall, Riverton Public Works Department and the Riverton Police Department. Two more kiosks are slated to be placed in the city’s fire stations, according to Casey Saxton, director of communications for Riverton.

Each kiosk contains a tank drum filled with an active carbon-based solution that can deplete pills, as well as, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and liquids like THC and CBD oils. The solution works by absorbing the controlled substances and making them immediately nonretrievable. While not toxic, anyone who drinks the solution in an attempt to get high would become sick and vomit.

Staggs said each kiosk can deplete up to 5,000 pills, and he expects one drum tank to be changed every three to six months.

As part of Riverton’s initiative, Intermountain Riverton Hospital is also giving away 6-ounce individualized NarcX bottles filled with the solution, which can destroy up to 40 pills, to the public for free.

Intermountain Healthcare Community Health Manager Nathan Peterson said the company has given away one third of its 1,000-bottle supply since September.

“It has been wildly successful to our community,” Staggs said.

Hutchings said focusing efforts on rural communities like Price, where opioid addiction is a concern, is a priority for him.

“We have the opportunity to put them (the kiosks) in places that we never even thought of before and make them available to the public in a way that we’ve never been able to do,” Hutchings said.

“The more available we can make this, the more locations and places, the more we can destroy the supply once it’s no longer being used for the purpose in which it was being prescribed,” he said.

In the future, Thatcher said he envisions bottles of NarcX going home with every bottle of narcotics.

“If we can end the ready supply of these opioids and narcotics that are no longer being used for the purpose for which they’re prescribed,” Thatcher said. “Well, we just made law enforcement’s day.”

Recently, Utah received $24 million in funding to combat the state’s opioid epidemic. Hutchings said he intends to earmark some of the funding to support more kiosks and individualized bottles.

In the next year, Hutchings said he expects to see a “tidal wave of new technology” over the state to address the opioid crisis.

“It’s the cheapest, fastest way that we can get into this game and have a really, really big impact,” Hutchings said.

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