Verde Technologies of Minnetonka asserts that it has a partial solution to the trafficking in prescription drugs.

It’s the misused prescription painkillers in medicine chests that kill more Americans from overdoses than heroin or cocaine.

Oxycodone, Percocet, Vicodin and other opioids are swiped by friends, relatives and burglars for use or sale.

Verde’s “Deterra” drug-deactivation packets, rolled out this year and embraced so far by dozens of police departments, pharmacies and clinics and a big health care system, gives consumers an easy, environmentally benign way to destroy excess prescription drugs at little to no cost, and render them safe for disposal or flushing.

“At least 75 percent of heroin addicts start out as prescription drug abusers,” said Howard Weissman, executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. “What most people don’t know is that prescription Vicodin or oxycodone is chemically the same thing as heroin on the street.

“Deterra can be very useful. There’s a certain genius in its simplicity. If a product like this leads people to properly deactivate and dispose of their [unused] medication, it could be revolutionary because nothing else has worked to this point. Doctors tend to overprescribe pain medication and we patients have been bad about proper disposal.”

Verde, a small company of 15 employees, uses a local contract manufacturer to make its patented “molecular absorption technology,” biodegradable pouches that neutralize the active chemicals in prescription drugs when water is added. Recent contracts and endorsements by the likes of huge Cardinal Health earlier this month at its national conference for pharmacists and vendors has business surging.

“Our revenue projection started at less than $1 million [for 2015],” CEO Jason Sundby said. “And now we’re looking at $4 million.

“This company can fulfill a need. It’s a tangible, low-cost way to get rid of drugs. The key is for the pharmacist to talk to the customer about unused prescription drugs in the medicine cabinet. Often the pharmacist sends a [free] Deterra packet with each opioid prescription.”

Verde doesn’t sell the product at retail yet because Deterra lacks brand identity. Instead, Verde partners with a growing list of health care providers, insurers, surgery centers, law enforcement and pharmacies who often provide Deterra with prescriptions at no cost. A small pouch of Deterra, worth about $2, can deactivate up to 15 pills, 2 ounces of liquid or two transdermal patches.

In 2013, of the 43,982 drug overdose deaths in the United States, 22,767, or 52 percent, were related to pharmaceuticals, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2013, the Minnesota Department of Health Department reported 507 Minnesotans died of all types of drug overdoses. By comparison, 374 Minnesotans died in motor vehicle accidents.

Government studies reveal that three out four heroin addicts start out on prescription medication.

“As a nation, we’re great at manufacturing, prescribing and dispensing prescription drugs,” said Christine Horton, a biologist and chemist who is Verde’s chief commercial officer and a veteran of the medical device industry. “But we didn’t give the public a proper deactivation and disposal solution. And then we wonder why we have an abuse problem and an environmental problem.”

The prevalence of prescription opioid-related crime and abuse will bring several hundred experts in public health and law enforcement to the University of Minnesota this month for the first statewide conference to define the scope of the problem and develop a solution.

“Prescription drug diversion is an ongoing threat to both public safety and public health,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said last week.

Chief Rob Reynolds of the Eden Prairie Police Department said his department has tracked a surprising increase in heroin use that started with prescription drugs over the last several years. Local “take-back” prescription-drug programs by localities and county governments are expensive to operate and require inventory-ing, storage by local police, and proper mass disposal. Eden Prairie police will distribute up to 5,000 Deterra pouches this year at community meetings, police stations, squad cars and elsewhere.

“It’s a smart, economical way to get rid of drugs at home,” Reynolds said. “Most people know they should get rid of prescription drugs but that they should not flush them or throw them out [for environmental reasons], so they just leave them in the cupboard. Deterra is perfect for us.

“We have a crime prevention fund that donates money and they buy the Deterra pouches for us.”

Verde was founded in 2011 and was awarded a contract in 2014 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that helped it bring Deterra to market. It also won the Social Entrepreneur Division in the 2014 Minnesota Cup competition.

Earlier this year, CEO Andrew Korey, a scientist and co-founder, stepped aside for Sundby, a board member, veteran corporate manager and a partner in venture capitalist Atlas Capital Partners of St. Louis Park. It owns 49 percent of the stock and is the single largest investor.