The pharmacy arena has turned up the heat in the battle against prescription drug abuse through a variety of new initiatives.

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Rx sector steps up fight against prescription abuse

August 16th, 2011

NEW YORK – The pharmacy arena has turned up the heat in the battle against prescription drug abuse through a variety of new initiatives.

CVS/pharmacy, for example, on Tuesday unveiled a program that gives customers a convenient way to dispose of unused, unwanted or expired medicines.

In addition, Walgreens and other retail pharmacies plan to participate in a statewide drug take-back event in Florida in conjunction with the state attorney general's office, the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators (NADDI) and the Collaborating and Acting Responsibly to Ensure Safety (C.A.R.E.S.) Alliance.

And late last week the Cardinal Health Foundation announced that it has provided grants to more than a dozen nonprofit groups focused on combatting prescription drug abuse. 

In the CVS/pharmacy program, all 7,200 of the chain's drug stores now offer Sharps Compliance Corp.'s Environmental Return System, which provides customers with affordable medication disposal envelopes. 

The postage-paid envelopes cost $3.99 and enable customers to mail their unwanted prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications through the U.S. Postal Service to a licensed, secure facility for safe destruction. Controlled substances are excluded from the program by law. Sharps Compliance reports that an estimated 200 million pounds of unused dispensed medications are disposed of improperly each year.

The CVS program was hailed by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.). "Leftover and unused pharmaceuticals are a hazard for abuse and misuse particularly by young people," Whitehouse said in a statement. "I applaud CVS and their partners for providing consumers with an easy avenue to safely dispose of unwanted medications."

CVS said the launch of the TakeAway Environmental Return System is part of the its ongoing efforts to provide safe medication disposal solutions, including participation in local medication take-back events nationwide and support of the Drug Enforcement Administration's annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.

"CVS/pharmacy is committed to safe environmental practices as well as helping customers prevent misuse at home of their unused medications, so we are pleased to partner with Sharps Compliance to provide a secure and environmentally safe solution in our pharmacies," stated Papatya Tankut, vice president of pharmacy professional services at CVS/pharmacy.

In Florida, Attorney General Pam Bondi has set August 27 as a statewide Drug Take Back Day, which is being sponsored by NADDI and the C.A.R.E.S. Alliance and will involve more than 70 pharmacy locations and law enforcement offices across the state. Participating retail pharmacies include Walgreens, Walmart and Sweetbay Supermarkets, as well as some independent drug store locations.

"We believe that collaboration through this initiative and others will further our progress against illegal diversion of legitimate, prescription medicines," commented Charlie Cichon, NADDI's executive director.

NADDI, which focuses on drug diversion activities, noted that it has long supported drug take-back initiatives. To address the rising problem of medication abuse and misuse, the group shares investigative information and works with a wide variety of organizations and law enforcement on pharmaceutical drug diversion.

Recently, NADDI joined the C.A.R.E.S. Alliance, a coalition of national patient safety, provider and drug diversion organizations focused on reducing opioid pain medication abuse and increasing responsible prescribing habits. The C.A.R.E.S. website includes tools for pharmacists and doctors for prescribing, screening and assessing patients.

"We all play a role in combating abuse and misuse and improving patient and public safety," stated C.A.R.E.S. representative Herbert Neuman, vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer for pharmaceuticals at Covidien. "A successful long-term solution can be found, but only through collaboration with groups like NADDI, more focused community education and better resources for prescribers and pharmacists."

To that end, Cardinal Health has proactively supported education and tools to help thwart prescription drug abuse. Last week the Cardinal Health Foundation said it has awarded nearly $210,000 in grant funding to 14 nonprofit organizations dedicated to fighting this growing public health epidemic.

Grant recipients were selected from five key communities where high concentrations of Cardinal Health employees live and work — Albuquerque, N.M.; central Ohio; El Paso, Texas; LaVergne, Tenn.; and Radcliff, Ky. — and have been awarded funding in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $15,000.

This marks the second consecutive year that the Cardinal Heath Foundation has offered this funding through its Preventing the Abuse and Misuse of Prescription Drugs grant program. Priority consideration is given to programs focused specifically on increasing awareness of the dangers of misusing and abusing prescription medications and to those that educate communities about the proper use and disposal of prescription drugs.

"Our goal is to stop prescription drug abuse before it starts — and that begins with education," stated Jessica Lineberger, community relations manager for Cardinal Health. "We launched this grant program because we believe that local nonprofit organizations can play a critical role in ensuring their communities understand that prescription drug abuse can have damaging and deadly consequences."

The Cardinal Health Foundation also has teamed up with The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy to develop two GenerationRx tool kits: comprehensive suites of materials designed to help health care providers, pharmacists, parents, teachers and other concerned citizens educate teen and adult audiences about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

And in partnership with The Ohio State University College of Social Work, the Cardinal Health Foundation has developed a survey to track the effectiveness of GenerationRx materials in changing attitudes about prescription drug abuse. During a pilot of the poll, nearly 90% of adult and teen respondents who had attended a GenerationRx presentation indicated that they would be less likely to use prescription drugs that are not prescribed to them. The same percentage of respondents reported they would be less likely to share prescription drugs.