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Up to 5 million unused pills destroyed in 18 months: How the University of Houston is combating the opioid epidemic in Texas

Learn how the University of Houston PREMIER Center used federal grant funding to employ evidence-based prevention solutions like the Deterra System

By: Danielle Campbell, RCP, PMP, Public Health Consultant and Sr. Project Manager at the University of Houston

Since April 2018, I have been contracted with the Prescription Drug Misuse Education and Research (PREMIER) Center at the University of Houston College of Pharmacy. Our PREMIER Center team was tasked with working with community-based coalitions on projects related to prescription drug misuse.  Our program is funded through the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (THHSC) by a State Opioid Response (SOR) grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

We initially enlisted 56 prevention organizations funded by the Substance Abuse Block Grant (SABG) as well as prescriber groups and other community groups to distribute at-home drug deactivation and disposal pouches in their communities. In 2020, the program expanded to include other distributors including hospitals, fire departments, and other organizations. Over an 18-month period, the community groups reported distributing 110,745 single-use drug deactivation and disposal pouches, enough to destroy up to 5 million unused pills.

Implementing a statewide grant-funded drug disposal program

We knew that a critical component of our prevention strategy would be providing tools for the public to safely dispose of unused medications to prevent misuse and lower the prevalence of substance use disorders.

To assist the community coalitions (CCP’s) in Texas, we developed and provided training materials to help the CCP’s reach out to local organizations such as The United Way, Meals on Wheels, and Kindred Hospice. The CCP’s develop community partnerships to distribute the Single Use Disposal Systems (SUDS) to public health offices, civic centers, urgent centers, churches, health clinics, physicians, school nurses, and pharmacists, that allows the disposal of large quantities of leftover medications.

In addition to providing materials, we supply the CCP’s with the SUDS to distribute in the communities and we designed an online reporting system to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of their SUDS distribution.

With grant-funded programs, data collection is essential to measure and report on the project’s impact. For our program, we worked with Deterra to create a custom survey postcard that was adhered to each Deterra Pouch. We asked the pouch recipients to answer a few questions about how they are using the pouch, what types of medications they are disposing of, and who they received the pouch from before mailing back the postcard.

Recently, we added a QR code for users to scan and easily respond to the survey online. The questions are in both English and Spanish, and the survey data is used to measure and improve our efforts, as well as provide impact reporting to SAMSHA.

Currently the team is working on an interactive map that will allow individuals to identify where the SUDS are being distributed throughout Texas.

You can read more about our program in this case study.

University of Houston Postcard

The University of Houston adheres a postcard to the Deterra Pouch with survey questions and a QR code to collect user data and measure the impact of the distribution program.

Grant opportunities for evidence-based prevention solutions

A key part of prevention programs is raising awareness about substance misuse and providing resources to the community to combat it. Grants provide essential funding for these programs, and there are numerous grants available to help with prevention and outreach efforts specific to prescription drug misuse.

The PREMIER Center at the University of Houston is funded through a Texas Targeted Opioid Response (TTOR) grant and SPF Rx grant. These are federal grants awarded to states by SAMSHA to support evidence-based prevention, treatment, and recovery activities.

These grants are typically awarded to state-level agencies or tribal governing bodies such as the state department of health and human services or health board. The funds are then allocated to regional organizations like county governments, healthcare and nonprofit groups, and local coalitions to provide prevention and/or treatment and recovery services to the community.

Deterra is an evidence-based prevention tool that can help reduce prescription drug misuse. To learn more about available grant opportunities that can help fund Deterra use in your community, download Deterra’s free Grant Guide: How to Secure Funds for At-Home Medication Deactivation & Disposal or contact Deterra with questions or for more information on how to secure grant funding to support your prevention strategy.


headshot of Danielle Campbell

About the Author

Danielle Campbell, RCP, PMP, is a Sr. Public Health Consultant at PM Consulting, LLC. She is currently the Sr. Project Manager at the University of Houston College of Pharmacy’s Prescription Drug Misuse Education and Research (PREMIER) Center. She facilitates the Texas Improved Dissemination and Evaluation of Single-Use Disposal Pouches (TIDES) project and the Educate Before You Medicate (EBYM) project. Both public health projects are designed to provide education and the tools to safely dispose of unused prescription medications through the distribution of Single Use Disposal Systems (SUDS).

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