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Walgreens sharpens aim at drug abuse

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Plans broad rollout of drug disposal kiosks and OTC availability of naloxone

DEERFIELD, Ill. — Aligning with public- and private-sector efforts to fight drug abuse, Walgreens plans to make opioid-overdose antidote naloxone available without a prescription in most of its stores and deploy medication disposal receptacles in hundreds of stores.

Walgreens launched the initiatives Tuesday in an event at its Washington, D.C., flagship store attended by White House Director of National Drug Control Policy Michael Botticelli; Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.); Rep. Bob Dold, (R., Ill.); Lou Milione, deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Diversion Control, Drug Enforcement Administration; and Michael Nerheim, state attorney for Lake County, Ill.

Walgreens drug disposal kiosk

Being deployed this year, the drug disposal kiosks will be located primarily in 24-hour Walgreens locations.

The drug chain said its rollout of safe medication disposal kiosks marks the first ongoing national effort of its kind by a retailer. Plans call Walgreens to install the kiosks in more than 500 drug stores in 39 states and Washington, D.C.

Available free, the drug disposal kiosks enable people to safely and conveniently dispose of unwanted, unused or expired prescriptions, including controlled substances, and over-the-counter medications. Most of the kiosks will be at 24-hour Walgreens stores, and those not at these locations will be available during regular pharmacy hours. Walgreens said it has begun deploying the kiosks in California and expects the units to be in more than 500 locations this year.

Also this year, Walgreens will provide naloxone over the counter through its pharmacies in 35 states and Washington, D.C. The company said it will roll out the program state by state during the year, eventually making the antidote available in more than 5,800 of its nearly 8,200 stores.

Naloxone, administered by injection or nasal spray, can be used in the event of an overdose to reverse the effects of heroin or other opioid drugs. The medication became available without a prescription last week at Walgreens pharmacies in New York and is slated to be introduced without a prescription in Indiana and Ohio later this month. Walgreens added that in states where a prescription is required, it aims to work with regulators to help update rules to allow for the nonprescription dispensing of naloxone.

“Walgreens pharmacists play an important role in counseling patients on the safe use of their medications, and now we are leading the way in retail pharmacy’s fight against prescription drug abuse,” Richard Ashworth, president of pharmacy and retail operations for Walgreens, said in a statement. “We understand the challenges our communities face, and we stand ready to help our patients and customers lead healthier lives. When the stakes are this high, the solutions must be comprehensive.”

An estimated 6.5 million Americans misused a prescription drug in 2014, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. That same year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 47,055 drug overdose deaths, including from prescription and illicit drugs, a 6.5% increase from 2013 and a 140% rise since 2000. Most people who misuse prescription drugs first get them from a family member or friend, and often from a home medicine cabinet, research shows.

“Providing safe and convenient disposal options for prescription drugs and expanding access to the lifesaving overdose-reversal drug naloxone are critical parts of our national strategy to stop the prescription drug and heroin overdose epidemic, along with effective enforcement, prevention and treatment,” Botticelli stated Tuesday at the Walgreens store in Washington, D.C. “Today’s announcement builds on the public and private sector actions announced by President Obama in October and demonstrates our strong commitment to addressing the prescription drug abuse and heroin use epidemic as both a public health and a public safety issue.”

Last week, Obama proposed $1 billion in new funding as part of the fiscal 2017 federal budget to expand access to treatment for prescription drug abuse and heroin use. His budget also includes about $500 million, an increase of over $90 million, to build on Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services efforts to expand state-level prescription drug overdose prevention strategies, widen the availability of medication-assisted treatment programs, improve access to naloxone and support targeted enforcement activities.

Walgreens said that by the end of 2016, it will have medication disposal units at over 500 stores in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

“Nearly one-quarter of people who try heroin become addicted, and their addiction frequently starts with recreational use of the kind of drugs that people too often leave lying around in medicine cabinets,” Dold said at the event. “But the statistics don’t even begin to tell the whole story. As a co-chair of the Suburban Anti-Heroin Task Force in Illinois, I’ve seen firsthand how these drugs destroy families. That’s why I’ve been working with local leaders and businesses, such as Walgreens, to find commonsense solutions to curb drug abuse, and in the coming days we’ll also be introducing new legislation that will help save lives.”

Walgreens noted that it also continues to participate in U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration-sponsored National Prescription Drug Take Back Days by having stores serve as collection points in communities for law enforcement to gather unwanted, unused or expired medications for safe disposal. The next DEA sponsored National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is scheduled for April 30.

“I commend Walgreens for stepping up to address the national epidemic of prescription drug abuse and heroin overdose. Drug take-back programs and over-the-counter access to naloxone are strong steps toward confronting this crisis and preventing further tragedies like we see in Chicago’s suburbs, where heroin is taking a life, on average, every three days,” Kirk stated. “My Anti-Heroin Task Force and I have been working to get naloxone available over the counter for families struggling with addiction. And now, thanks to Walgreens, Illinois is one of 35 states where families will be able to purchase this life-saving drug without a prescription.”

By the year’s end, Walgreens will make naloxone available without a prescription in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.


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