MOUNT VERNON -- Behind the Knox County Sheriff's Office, Mike Glaser, the evidence and property room technician, has set up a large gray cylindrical machine, approximately four feet tall and two feet wide. 

Within the nearby area, a roaring noise can be heard as the machine’s fan pulls air into its cylindrical container, beginning a combustion process. 

“I have to put it over there,” Glaser said, pointing to a gravel path.

If Glaser put the machine on the parking lot pavement, it would burn through it. After about 20 minutes, the machine reaches optimal temperature and Glaser can begin loading it — with pills, heroin, cocaine and the other medications the sheriff's department has confiscated and no longer needs to store for evidence.

The machine is called the “drug terminator,” and the sheriff’s office purchased it last month to dispose of the drugs safely, in-house. 

Prior to the office’s acquisition of the “drug terminator,” the office used the furnace in Snyder Funeral Homes to incinerate medications. But, the funeral home did so for free out of public service and could only help out every so often, leaving medications to pile up in the evidence room with no regular disposal method.  

“We literally had several hundred pounds of stuff we needed to get rid of,” Shaffer said, referring to the amount the office had in the weeks leading up to the “drug terminator” purchase. 

Glaser has used the machine four times so far and has incinerated 150 to 200 pounds of medication, Glaser said. He typically runs the machine for one hour and incinerates up to 50 pounds during that time. 

“I like to do it in the morning, that way I can give (the machine) plenty of time to cool off,” Glaser said, noting the machine takes a couple hours to cool off before it can be put away. 

The office plans to get in a routine of using the machine a few times each month to prevent medications from piling up in the evidence room. 

The office used a combination of Furtherance of Justice funds and the Law Enforcement Trust Fund, which comprises forfeited drug money and drug fine money issued by the courts, to purchase the machine for approximately $4500, Shaffer said. 

The machine is mainly used to dispose of pills but can also be used to destroy other drugs, such as methamphetamine and heroin. 

These medications also come from the drop-off bin, available to the public 24 hours a day located inside the front vestibule of the office. The office receives approximately 20 pounds of medication per month from drop offs alone. 

“We take in an average of about 5 pounds per week of dropped off medication, so that’s in addition to any seizures, any stuff we take on reports, so you can see how it adds up,” Shaffer said. 

The “drug terminator” breaks the chemical bonds in the medications, rendering them to a non-retrievable state.

“This is a clean, easy way to incinerate them,” Shaffer said. “Literally, it’s just a couple of handfuls of ash once we’re done.”

The ash can be disposed of with regular trash, keeping the medications out of landfills and waterways, Shaffer said.  

A main concern of respondents in the 2021 Knox County Community Health Assessment was drug abuse, a concern that was also previously shown in the 2018 assessment. 

Shaffer just recently began researching drug incinerators in the spring of 2021, and soon after the office purchased one. 

“It was between about a month when we started looking and we had one,” Shaffer said. 

Glaser said the machine is simple to operate and did not require specific training on his part. He watched tutorials online and read the manual, he said, and he has not faced any complications thus far. 

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Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.

Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.