In an effort to help fight the nation’s opioid epidemic, Walmart is giving its pharmacy customers a free drug disposal product to help customers safely discard of painkillers they don’t want or need.
A small packet of DisposeRX powder will be automatically handed to customers filling new Class II opioid prescriptions, and those with chronic prescriptions will be given a free packet every six months, Walmart announced in a statement Wednesday. Officials said the product is a quick and secure way for people who might be concerned about someone abusing their excess pills to throw them away: Just fill the 2/3rds of the prescription vial with water, add the DisposeRX powder and screw on the cap before shaking the vial for about 30 seconds.
Within 10 minutes, a biodegradable gel will form, fusing the pills together into a solid lump that can be tossed in the trash. The product, in addition to eliminating the risk of addiction or accidental poisoning, wipes away concerns that tossed-out drugs will contaminate water supplies.
The product’s rollout is the latest effort by pharmacies to reduce the accessibility of leftover painkillers. Major pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens allow customers to return the drugs they don’t use at designated drop box locations. Walmart, which does not accept returned drugs, already sells a medication disposal pouch that neutralizes drugs.
Walmart’s announcement comes nine months after the Cherokee Nation filed a lawsuit in tribal court accusing the company along with Walgreens and CVS of flooding communities in Oklahoma with hundreds of millions of highly addictive painkillers. The suit alleged those companies violated sovereign Cherokee laws by failing to avert the spread of pills to the black market and profiting off the country’s opioid problem.
A federal judge last week, however, ruled that while he sympathized with the Cherokee Nation’s mission, the tribe did not have jurisdiction to sue, according to the New York Times.
Most states, before the current opioid epidemic, developed tracking systems for health professionals to monitor patient’s prescription drug use and determine if they were receiving too many pills, too high a dose or were dangerously combining medicines. Few pharmacists and physicians used the system, though. At least 39 states are now demanding that prescribers track their patients’ drug use before they write additional prescriptions for highly addictive drugs such as Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin.
More than 63,000 people died of drug overdose in 2016, up 21 percent from 2015, with about two-thirds of those deaths caused by opioids. That year, West Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia had the highest observed drug overdose rates, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the CDC. In October, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public-health emergency.
Other developed countries are not experiencing the same rates of people dying from opioids as Americans, which experts say could be because opioids are prescribed significantly more in the United States than other countries.
DisposeRX works on pills, tablets, capsules, liquids and patches, according to its website. Walmart’s announcement included an endorsement from Sen. John Boozman (R) of Arkansas, home to Walmart’s headquarters.
“About one-third of medications sold go unused,” Boozman said in Walmart’s statement. “Too often, these dangerous narcotics remain unsecured where children, teens or visitors may have access. I commend Walmart for taking this innovative approach to help keep unused prescription drugs out of the wrong hands.”
Scott Higham, Lenny Bernstein and Christine Vestal contributed to this report.