Walmart is taking on the opioid abuse crisis with a safe solution to dispose of unused prescriptions.
The big box retailer says it will become the first national drug chain to offer such a free opioid disposal option at all its pharmacy locations.
Walmart is teaming with a Southern Pines, N.C.. company called DisposeRx, on a solution that consists of a small packet with an FDA-safe chemical blend that, when emptied into a pill bottle with warm water, lets patients dispose of any leftover medications in the trash. The medications — they can be powder, pills, tablets, capsules or liquids — are converted into a non-divertible and biodegradable gel.
DisposeRx started in 2015.
As part of its efforts to address the crisis, Walmart says it will also provide ongoing counseling to prescription customers at its 4,700 pharmacy locations.
“The health and safety of our patients is a critical priority; that’s why we’re taking an active role in fighting our nation’s opioid issue — an issue that has affected so many families and communities across America,” said Marybeth Hays, executive vice president of Consumables and Health and Wellness at Walmart U.S., in a statement. “While this issue requires many resources to solve, we are confident this unique, easy-to-use disposal solution, DisposeRx, will make a meaningful impact on the lives of many.”
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Institute of Drug Abuse, say that about two-thirds of people misusing prescription opioids are getting them from family and friends.
Walmart says patients will receive a free DisposeRx packet and opioid safety information brochure whenever filling and picking up any new Class II opioid prescription at Walmart pharmacies. Patients with recurring Class II opioid prescriptions can receive the packet every six months. And existing pharmacy patients can also request a free packet at any time. The DisposeRx packets will be made available at Sam’s Club as well.
“70% (of the opioid problem) begins in the medicine cabinet,” says John Holaday, co-founder and CEO of DisposeRx. “If we can curb that we’ll stop an awful lot of this.”
In the Walmart release, Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said that “about one-third of medications sold go unused. Too often, these dangerous narcotics remain unsecured where children, teens or visitors may have access.”
Walmart is not the only major chain trying to address the opioid epidemic, of course. Walgreens claims it was the first drugstore chain to install safe medication disposal kiosks at its pharmacies to allow individuals to dispose of unwanted, unused or expired prescriptions, including controlled substances, and over-the-counter medications at no cost.
The kiosks are available during regular pharmacy hours. They’re now available in more than 600 select pharmacies. Walgreens says it has collected more than 155 tons of unwanted medication since the program launched in Feb. 2016.
This past September, CVS Health said it would limit opioid prescriptions to seven-day supplies for new patients facing certain acute conditions. It also provides drug disposal boxes at some its pharmacies (and donates some to police departments), and offers counseling to patients who are prescribed opioids for the first time.
Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of opioid policy research at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, applauds prescription limits. But he thinks the latest Walmart initiative won’t be especially helpful. While the theory that you shouldn’t flush leftover pills because of environmental concerns applies to many medications, Kolodny says it does not apply to opioids. And he dismisses the fact that the leftover meds are what’s fueling the crisis.
Instead, he says, “the root of the opioid problem is that doctors are giving people more pills than they need.”
Though some of their approaches vary, Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid and other pharmacy and health providers wrote a joint letter to President Trump in November, offering guidelines on combating the opioid crisis through a collaborative public-private partnership.