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Opioids

Walmart Is Making It Safer to Throw Away Prescription Painkillers

More than 65 percent of people who misuse prescription opioids get them from family and friends.

Jesse Hicks

Courtesy of Walmart

One of the major challenges of the opioid epidemic is the sheer number of pills out there. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016 there were 214 million total opioid prescriptions in the United States. That’s a marked drop from the recent peak of 255 million in 2012. But it’s still a lot of pills: In about a quarter of US counties, enough opioid prescriptions were written for every person to have one.

And according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Institute of Drug Abuse, more than 65 percent of people who misuse prescription opioids get them from family and friends—in other words, all those millions of pills are a problem.

To combat it, Walmart is now offering a free opioid disposal solution called DisposeRx. Patients who want to get rid of excess prescription drugs—including powders, pills, tablets, capsules, liquids or patches, according to the manufacturer—can put them in a pill bottle, add warm water, and the contents of a DisposeRx packet. A chemical reaction creates a biodegradable gel that’s safe to dispose of and can’t be rendered into usable drugs.

Walmart will provide the packets to patients at its 4,700 pharmacies across the country. Anyone filling a new Class II opioid prescription (OxyContin and Percocet, for example) will receive a packet of DisposeRx and a brochure about opioid safety. Patients with chronic prescriptions, meanwhile, will receive a free packet every six months. Existing patients can ask for DisposeRx any time they want, which could be useful for destroying other prescription drugs as well. Walmart also provides ongoing counseling about proper opioid use.

There are a lot of intertwined problems within the opioid crisis, from overprescription to lax regulation to backward notions about addiction. There’ve also come a myriad of possible solutions, from suing drug manufacturers to creating more needle exchanges to, yes, legalizing marijuana. Yet the problem remains real—and deadly. If Walmart’s move does help destroy some pills before they can destroy lives, it’s a step in the right direction.

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