Now more than ever, our country needs urgent, collaborative solutions to the opioid epidemic. Opioid abuse is devastating families and entire communities alike, and the numbers continue to rise. In 2016, more than 42,000 overdose deaths involved an opioid.
We need to take every measure to curb abuse. One way to do that is through prevention: keeping new generations of people from potentially abusing opioids.
A major catalyst driving the opioid epidemic is “drug diversion,” when a legally prescribed controlled substance is transferred from a prescription holder to another individual for illicit use. Diversion can take many forms, but one that is increasingly common involves opioids and other medicines left in the home, where they can be taken and abused by family members or visitors.
That is why we – AmerisourceBergen, Pfizer, Prime Therapeutics and Walgreens – are proud to have forged a partnership to expand access to safe medication disposal options from 600 to 1,500 take back kiosks located in communities across the country, allowing people to safely dispose of their unused medications at select Walgreens pharmacies year-round at no cost.
This expansion makes everyday a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, with the opportunity to take stock of the unused opioids in our medicine cabinets and safely dispose of them, which can help avoid deadly intentional or accidental misuse of these medications. The stakes are real: nearly 1 in 4 high school seniors in the United States has taken prescription opioids.
To date, our medication disposal program has collected more than 270 tons of unwanted medication from people emptying their home medicine cabinet of expired medications, demonstrating that providing a year-round take back solution can help curb such misuse of medications.
“Take back” programs like this are just one way that the industry can address this epidemic. Another step in the right direction involves insurance companies implementing policies to create additional, data-backed checks and balances pertaining to opioid prescribing and dispensing, which will help prevent millions of unneeded opioid pain medicines from being introduced into communities.
Some states are also taking preventive steps, such as limiting the quantities and lengths of prescriptions that can be written. And municipalities and pharmacies are teaming up across the nation to make sure that naloxone—a lifesaving medication that counteracts the effects of an opioid overdose—is immediately available without a prescription.
It will take concerted effort from all corners of the healthcare community to stem the tide of the opioid epidemic—and to eventually reverse it. We encourage other organizations and leaders—manufacturers, insurance companies, healthcare providers, government agencies, and even patients themselves— to come together to identify additional areas for action on the opioid crisis.
Each of our companies has invested significantly in its systems to combat drug abuse, including assistance in identifying potential opioid abuse, information sharing with law enforcement and public health agencies and expanding the capabilities of our partners in addressing this crisis. Moving forward, we are all ready to do more, in conjunction with the broader health care system, to keep patients healthy and safe.
Richard Ashworth, President of Operations at Walgreens, Bob Mauch, EVP and Group President, Pharmaceutical Distribution & Strategic Global Sourcing at AmerisourceBergen, Robert W. Jones, Senior Vice President, U.S. Government Relations at Pfizer, Jonathan Gavras, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at Prime Therapeutics