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Johns Island company renders controlled substances inert

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After four-and-a-half years of testing, Okra Medical has perfected its formula for destroying addictive controlled substances, rendering them 100% non-retrievable and irreversible.

This product, called SafeMedWaste, is the only solution in the nation with verified Drug Enforcement Administration licensed lab results. Besides incineration, the solution is the only tested way to completely break down controlled pharmaceutical substances so that they cannot be reused by humans or animals.

SafeMedWaste’s formula covers more than 30 types of Schedule I-IV liquid, pill and patch controlled substances, including opioids, cannabis, narcotics and benzodiazepines. It has been patented in the U.S. and is now waiting on approval in other parts of the world.

“We’ve hired an independent lab out of Michigan that has done all of our testing,” said Marshall Hartmann, CEO of the company founded in 2018 on Johns Island. “They have verified that our product in nature covers a wide range of controlled substances, where no other product has that proof of efficacy.”

With onsite denaturation, SafeMedWaste works with Drug Enforcement Administration registrants, such as opioid manufacturers, hospitals, surgery centers and law enforcement agencies, to dispose of substances quickly and effectively at a low-cost.

Rather than having to safely transport discarded substances to incinerators and landfills in an expensive process, sites with a SafeMedWaste container simply dispose of products inside, where molecules will be broken down and chemically denatured to its basic elements.

Destroyed products can then be thrown away as nonhazardous waste, also reducing the environmental impact of incineration. Denatured controlled substances do not leach into landfills either.

This process also prevents the chance of diversion, in which an individual’s prescribed controlled substance is transferred to someone else for illicit use, Hartmann said.

“Our current compatible drug list encompasses every drug that you’ll find in a hospital or prescribed to a patient that’s commonly abused in society,” said Justin Stas, the company’s chief technology officer. “We focused on what the DEA was seeing people abuse, what people were dying from and what was being diverted by health care workers and people in health care settings.”

The product comes in different sizes, including a 55-gallon drum for places like law enforcement agencies or pharmaceutical companies, where substances accumulate quickly. Substances of different kinds can be disposed of in these containers simultaneously.

“A lot of facilities store active drugs, so our product gives them the ability to destroy stuff onsite without harboring those drugs in a container, waiting for pickup,” Stas said. “So it completely renders them inert at the facility, stopping that ability for diversion until incineration.”

Okra Medical is also awaiting a grant to conduct a home-use product clinical study. This product would allow individual consumers to disable drugs right in their own home through the use of a smaller-sized SafeMedWaste container. 

“Most people get addicted to opioids from taking them from a friend or family’s medicine cabinet, so we’re trying to help solve that problem with this product,” Hartmann said.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 76% of people who use prescription drugs non-medically gain access to them from someone they know.

While the Food and Drug Administration’s recommended method of at-home disposal includes flushing drugs down the toilet or covering them with undesirable substances like coffee grounds or kitty litter to discourage retrieval, these methods are not 100% effective, Stas said.

“Flushing puts the drugs back into our water supply, and we’ve had conversations with the wastewater treatment facility in Greenville, and like most facilities nationwide, they cannot remove pharmaceuticals from water supplies,” Stas said. “They don’t have the technology or the funding to be able to do that.”

“Our product destroys them, making them inert so they’re not going into the water supply; they can’t be used in the landfill,” Stas said. “With coffee grounds, they go into the landfill, but they’re not rendered, not destroyed at all. They’re just covered in coffee grounds or kitty litter.”

Although Okra Medical originally planned to launch the product during second quarter 2020, the pandemic delayed the process. As the primary focus of hospitals became battling COVID-19 rather than changing procedures on disposing controlled substances, the company has shifted sights to ambulatory surgical centers in its future launch. They also plan to continue testing to expand the list to include chemotherapeutics and steroids, Hartmann said.

Reach Alexandria Ng at 843-849-3124.

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