Google Maps also will launch a tool to help users find a drug-collection site nearby, drawing from the 5,500 locations where people can bring their unwanted or expired medication.
“We're deeply concerned by the opioid crisis that has impacted families in every corner of the United States,” Susan Molinari, Google's vice president of public policy, said in a blog post Wednesday. While the DEA has found that drug disposal is one way to help prevent abuse and addiction, “many people aren’t aware of, or can’t easily find, prescription drug disposal programs in their communities,” she added. Google said users search for terms related to prescription drug disposal 10,000 times per week, on average.
More than 42,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses in 2016, up 28 percent from 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. President Trump declared the drug crisis a public health emergency last year. He has since advanced drug-abuse-prevention policies that include a public awareness campaign to suppress consumer demand and an expansion of a Justice Department opioid fraud unit to prosecute negligent pharmacies and distributors.
Google's project with the DEA comes as leading technology companies are drawing increased scrutiny over their roles in the spread of misinformation and exchange of illicit products. This month, the head of the Food and Drug Administration called on Internet providers to help rid the Web of illegal offers of prescription opioids that have contributed to the drug crisis. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said then that it's time for an initiative, akin to efforts involving Internet providers to limit the spread of child pornography, to grapple with illegal listings for painkillers. He said the FDA would soon meet with Internet company executives and advocacy groups to seek solutions.
During his recent high-profile testimony on Capitol Hill, Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, was also pressed by lawmakers to do more to block posts on his social network that offer the sale of prescription drugs.
The DEA has reported that its most recent “Take Back Day” set a record for the total weight of drugs destroyed. But it's difficult to measure how effective the program is at alleviating the opioid crisis because the agency does not assess the amount of opioids it discards versus other types of medicine. But the agency has said that the removal of an increasing amount of drugs from homes could prevent drug addiction and overdoses.
Google has been lobbying Congress and the White House on the opioid crisis for the past six months, according to the company's most recent disclosures. During that time, the company spent more money lobbying the federal government than any other corporation, totaling about $9.4 million.