The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that in 2017, more than seventy-two thousand Americans died from drug overdoses, thanks largely to the growing opioid epidemic. Meanwhile, according to an Associated Press investigation, some forty million of us are ingesting pharmaceuticals through drinking water. A study of fifty US water treatment plants by the Environmental Protection Agency found that the water from more than half contained at least twenty-five drugs, among them blood pressure medications and the narcotic oxycodone.

Enter an inexpensive packet of polymer powder called DisposeRx, produced by a company of the same name cofounded in 2015 by Dennis Wiggins, A74. You add the powder to a vial of old pills along with warm water. Shake for thirty seconds and less than ten minutes later, you’re left with a harmless, biodegradable gel that can safely go into the trash (the vial can go into the recycling bin).

Portrait of Dennis Wiggins

Dennis Wiggins, A74 (Photo: Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

DisposeRx targets the home medicine cabinet, where a recent survey by the environmental compliance firm Stericyle found 42 percent of respondents had one to three unused prescriptions. That’s a problem. Flush them down the toilet or throw them away and they end up either leaching into groundwater or bound for water treatment plants never designed to deal with them. Leave them at home and they can be a source of accidental poisoning or stolen for abuse—70 percent of new addictions in this country start with drugs taken from medicine cabinets, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. And yes, people can tote leftover prescriptions to a medication drop-off center, but just 1.4 percent of respondents in a survey published in the Journal of Drug Abuse reported doing that.

By contrast, the convenient solution DisposeRx offers could catch on. Packets are available from an increasing number of pharmacies, usually for about $1.50 each, and sometimes for free. Last January, Walmart and its Sam’s Club stores began handing out gratis packets to anyone filling a new opioid prescription. Rite Aid and the health insurance provider Humana have since initiated giveaways of their own. And in October, when DisposeRx executives attended President Trump’s signing ceremony for legislation to stem the opioid crisis, they announced that the company would donate packets to charity—enough to destroy more than ten million pills. (Nonprofits, foundations, and faith-based groups can request packets at disposerx.com.)

Though Wiggins is excited about DisposeRx’s role in combatting drug abuse, he also emphasized the importance of safeguarding drinking water. “If we’ve learned anything from Flint, Michigan,” he said, “it’s that when the water supply is compromised, the fabric of society is at risk.” That’s why we need to destroy all unused drugs, he said, noting that “the beauty of DisposeRx is that it makes that so easy.”