The recently formed Illinois branch of the Rx Abuse Leadership Initiative (RALI) officially kicked off the first of several programs to combat opioid addiction and its effects on Chicago’s West Side.

During an Oct. 30 press conference held at Loretto Hospital, 645 S. Central, representatives of the organizations taking part in RALI focused on their first priority — disposing of prescription drugs. 

The organizations will distribute 50,000 Deterra pouches, which neutralize the drugs in the medicine, allowing residents to throw it away safely in any regular garbage bin. They will also encourage residents to take advantage of other ways to safely dispose of their medications, so that there’s less of a chance that someone could get their hands on them and become addicted.

While the suburbs and rural America have dominated news related to the country’s opioid epidemic, the concentration of opioid deaths is actually in predominantly black and brown places like the West Side. 

The initiative is a partnership between Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), a national nonprofit that was originally formed to combat heroin addiction in the 1980s. As retired general Arthur Dean, the organization’s current chair and CEO, explained during the press conference, the nonprofit’s goal is to support the organizations that are already doing work in the area. 

“CADCA doesn’t go into the City of Chicago and solve their problem,’ he said. “But it helps coalitions [like West Garfield Park Community Stakeholders] and helps them solve the problem.”

Dean and others emphasized throughout the conference that there is no silver bullet for addressing the epidemic of opioid addiction. 

“We take a holistic approach, a multi-sector approach, to solve this problem,” Dean said. “When we had our first press conference on prescription drugs being a problem in America — that was 16 years ago. We have been working to try and address [the issue] and we’ll continue to do so.”

The initiative’s first priority is to dispose of medicine that isn’t needed and that is an addiction risk waiting to happen.

“If we can get unwanted medication out of medicine cabinets, we can prevent a lot of problems,” Dean said. “We want to save lives.”

He said that having Loretto Hospital, West Garfield Park Community Stakeholders and other organizations distribute the pouches for free would go a long way.

The Deterra pouches contain powder-like compounds that react to the chemicals in the drugs, rendering them inert. Each pouch can be used to dispose of up to 45 pills, up to six ounces of liquid and up to six patches. 

To dispose of the medicine, residents need to simply open the bag, put the medicine in, fill the bag with warm water and seal it. After 30 seconds, residents should shake the contents to ensure that the chemicals mix. After that, they can simply throw out the sealed pouch with the regular trash. 

According to the instructions on the pouch, it shouldn’t be used for medications that come with their own, specific disposal instructions. And due to the nature of the chemicals the pouches contain, they should be kept out of reach of children and pets. 

As several speakers during the conference noted, the pouches aren’t the only ways to dispose of medicine. Other options include designated drop-off sites, or mixing the medicine with common household trash, such as coffee grids, before tossing it out.

Rev Walter Jones, the director of West Garfield Park Community Stakeholders, said that getting the pouches distributed throughout the West Side was important.

“What we can do now is to make it easier to dispose of unused medication,” he said. “It is important to understand how these bags can save lives. Three out of four heroin addicts start by using prescription drugs. I believe we can rid the West Side of this epidemic of prescription drugs.”

Eric Davis, Executive Director of the BASE Chicago, a West Garfield Park organization that uses combination of sports and academic tutoring to help local teens. He said that opioid deaths were something that teens in the community are exposed to daily and that it was vital that they do something about it.

“I want to thank the General [Dean] for bringing this to Chicago, but especially the West Side of Chicago,” he said. “If you know your baseball terminology, this epidemic need a rally.”


Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...