Wal-Mart offers customers a new opioid crisis solution: Get rid of old meds safely, at home, for free
One way an opioid addiction can start is in the medicine cabinet, where leftover medications from painful procedures can languish for months or years.
Now, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. WMT, +1.73% is offering a new kind of solution, with a free product that allows consumers to safely and conveniently throw out what’s left over of their medication.
The product, DisposeRx, consists of a small packet — around the size of flower food that typically accompanies a bouquet — that is dumped in a pill bottle with water and shaken, turning the medication into a biodegradable gel, which is then thrown out.
Once turned into gel, leftover opioids can’t be abused, according to DisposeRx Chief Executive John Holaday.
DisposeRx has undergone “extensive” testing to check that premise, including trying out various household items that might be utilized, and “we can’t find a way” to extract opioids, he said.
Pharmacies like Wal-Mart have become one front line in confronting the opioid crisis, with companies rolling out expanded access to the opioid overdose antidote and participating in programs that monitor opioid prescriptions.
Read more: Walgreens, CVS are taking this big step to fight the opioid epidemic
Safe medication disposal is a key facet of the opioid crisis, with accounts of the prescription drugs being obtained by teenagers in their family homes, by visitors at someone’s house, or even by prospective buyers at an open house.
“When people are addicted, they’ll do a lot of things to feed their physical addiction — it becomes a drive,” said John Auerbach, president and chief executive of policy, think tank and advocacy group Trust for America’s Health, which focuses on public health and prevention issues.
It’s also a safety issue, especially with young children around.
However, it has been difficult to tackle.
Many pharmacies sell a pouch that can be used in a manner similar to DisposeRx to destroy medications. Though such pouches have been distributed through various programs, they aren’t always free and are typically larger than a pill bottle.
There also aren’t many medication take-back programs. Existing ones often don’t accept controlled substances like opioids, and those that do aren’t always frequent or convenient.
That may be changing. Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. WBA, +0.29% , for example, made disposal kiosks available in hundreds of pharmacies in 2016; the program collected 72 tons of unused medications in its first year.
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Wal-Mart said Tuesday that its new program will be available immediately in all of its 4,700 pharmacies (though patients in Rhode Island and Washington will receive a different, free disposal solution because of ongoing third-party testing) and for Sam’s Club patients.
DisposeRx packets will be available with new opioid prescriptions, and offered for free every six months for individuals with recurring opioid prescriptions; existing patients can also request a free packet.
In addition, the “best part is that patients don’t have to take leftover prescription drugs to take-back locations,” said Marybeth Hays, executive vice president of Wal-Mart’s consumables, health and wellness business.
“It’s a positive move for a business to become involved in helping to control the opioid epidemic,” Trust for America’s Health’s Auerbach said. “And so Wal-Mart is to be applauded for that.”
In a separate development, Wal-Mart recently said it plans to close 63 Sam’s Club locations, which observers said put a damper on the company’s new associate benefits.
Wal-Mart shares have surged more than 17% over the past three months, compared with a 8.5% rise in the S&P 500 SPX, +0.00% and a 12.4% rise in the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.21% .