ST. LOUIS - Every year here in St. Louis and across the country, hundreds of thousands of pounds of drugs go up in flames. It's all part of a drug disposal program.
Drug Enforcement Administration officials have said opioid addiction can start in people's home.
"We know that particularly for teenagers the greatest source of these drugs for abuse comes from the unmonitored medicine chest," said Scott Collier, head of DEA's diversion program. "If by doing this we save one child - victory."
Since 2010, the DEA has encouraged folks to turn in old prescriptions twice a year during its National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.
"That's definitely how this opioid crisis started in the first place - prescription drugs," said St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson.
Boxes of discarded drugs are frequently delivered to Veolia, an environmental service company in Sauget. The boxes are loaded onto a conveyor belt and move slowly towards a huge kiln, where temperatures inside can climb to 2,200 degrees.
Hundreds of thousands of pounds of old drugs are burned each year. Exactly 100 pounds of drugs turns into 2 to 3 pounds of ash.
Like almost any other business, workers here have friends who've experienced the horror of addiction.
"To be part of the solution to get those off the street for good is important for us," said Doug Harris, Veolia general manager. "We all live in this community it makes us proud to be part of it."
A camera inside the incinerator shows the drugs turning to ash. Veolia is a member of a partnership which includes the DEA and the St. Louis College of Pharmacy to curb addiction.
"There is no silver bullet, not one magical solution that we can implement that will make it suddenly get better," said Amy Tiemeier, a pharmacist at the college.
But Tiemeier said burning the drugs is an important key along with treatment and education.
The Troy, Illinois Police Department has a drug drop box. It fills up quickly, nearly 75 pounds each week. The evidence vault became so crowded with bags of old medicine they bought a drug eliminator, which destroys 100 pounds of drugs in an hour.
"Our community cares a lot about preventing the medication from entering the hands of children inappropriate people," said Officer Mike Raymond, Troy Police Department.
Even if your old drugs are not narcotics, it's important to turn them in for the sake of the environment. Studies indicate if they're flushed down the toilet they may be impacting the water supply. No problems have been reported for humans yet, but animals are a different story.
"Some of those hormones are causing our fish to change sex," Tiemeir said
Is the drug burning working? Law enforcement officials admit they will never know how many people are saved because of the program, they say it's so much better than doing nothing.
"We're making it much harder for people to get hold of," Sheriff Watson said.
You can learn more about the upcoming DEA drug take-back day and locations where you can drop off old medicines throughout the year by visiting the links posted below.