Incinerator safely disposes of Rx drugs

Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong kneels next to a dual-chamber burner that will be used to incinerate contraband.

Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong kneels next to a dual-chamber burner that will be used to incinerate contraband.

The Carson City Sheriff’s Office is working to burn away some of the prescription pill abuse problems the city faces.

Carson, Douglas and Lyon County sheriff’s offices utilize the incinerator, located at the Butti Way Corporate Yard to dispose of unwanted drugs and prescriptions.

“This incinerator is an accomplishment for the city,” said Carson Sheriff Ken Furlong.

Head of the evidence department, Marie Martensen, burns nearly 300 pounds of controlled substances every month, about 40 to 75 pounds of drugs each burn she does. Each burn takes from 30 minutes to three hours, depending on what is burning inside.

The idea for the machine first came from a former Board of Supervisors member Shelly Aldean as a way to improve the water quality. Before the incinerator, the Sheriff’s Office was flushing the controlled substances into the water to dispose of them.

Purchased in 2013, the solution came in the form of a $104,000 short-term grant from the Office of Criminal Justice Assistance, which is part of the state Department of Public Safety. The total cost of bringing the incinerator online was $51,000; the remaining grant money is paying for equipment and other expenses.

“Rather than just flushing them into the water to dispose correctly, Partnership Carson City saw the advantage of this way to dispose of the substances,” Furlong said.

The incinerator was purchased through a grant, and is a regional tool for counties surrounding Carson City to use. The other agencies have requirements they have to comply with to use the facility, but it is free to use for all.

In addition to impacting the water quality, it saves the department a lot of money. To dispose of them, they had to ship the prescriptions and contraband out of state, and though the incinerator cost about $32,000, it is more cost effective and safer than having deputies transport it to other states because of the overtime pay and transport costs.

“It is costly, but worth the money we spent than to transport it out of state,” Furlong said. “It was costly and at times dangerous to transport it out of state and we get volumes dropped off at the Sheriff’s Office.”

For Carson, they are able to burn drug evidence that is released from the District Attorney’s Office and prescription pills that they collect from residents throughout the year. Partnership Carson City and the Sheriff’s Office conduct two drug round-up events per year, where people can come and drop off medications for themselves or from loved ones that can no longer be utilized.

“We can dispose of the drugs in the community for the welfare of the community,” Furlong said.

There are very meticulous regulations the Sheriff’s Office has to follow to continue operating the incinerator, such as air quality restrictions, the amount that can be disposed and how the Sheriff’s Office receives the drugs. In order to not disrupt residents, the Sheriff’s Office put the incinerator at the corporate yard so that the least amount of people are effected while still keeping it within city lines.

“The restrictions are in place by the DEA and EPA regulations and while we would like to be more accommodating it is an obligation we have to adhere to,” Furlong said.

The incinerator has a dual chamber in order to create the cleanest air quality and not put too many pollutants in the air. And after it has finished burning, at roughly 1,200 degrees, the ash is shoveled into metal trashcans and disposed at the city landfill. The emission limit for the dual-chamber incinerator is 0.483 pound per hour.

“Safety is a huge concern,” Martensen said. “We are well under the burning emissions guidelines… and there are safety systems built in so throughout the burn it is secure.”

Every destruction is a two-man sign-off, so that there is no potential discrepancy in the drug burns. When other agencies use it, they have to handle it all while Martensen manages it, because they aren’t allowed to take custody of another agency’s evidence.

“For everything we do, it is good someone got around to it because we hope that it curbs overdoses and the number of people taking meds that don’t belong to them because the home is where they get is usually,” Furlong said.

To dispose of unwanted prescriptions, the Sheriff’s Office and Partnership Carson City has a Drug Roundup twice a year, or there is a box at the Sheriff’s Office where citizens can come to dispose of the contraband.


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