Walmart, Jewel-Osco take steps to help curb opioid epidemic

Easier disposal of drugs,  over-the-counter sale of OD antidote offered

By Corilyn Shropshire and Lauren Zumbach Chicago Tribune

Walmart and Jewel-Osco are joining the list of retailers making efforts to address the nation’s opioid epidemic.

The world’s largest retailer said it wants to limit abuse of prescription opioids by making it easier for patients to dispose of leftover drugs. Meanwhile, Jewel-Osco is making opioid overdose antidote Narcan available to buy over the counter, the company announced Tuesday.

Walmart pharmacies will provide patients free packets of a product that when combined with leftover medications and warm water in a pill bottle forms a biodegradable gel that can be safely tossed in the trash, as the drugs can’t be extracted for abuse, according to manufacturer DisposeRx. All patients filling new opioid prescriptions at Walmart will receive a packet of DisposeRx when picking up their medications, Walmart said. Patients with chronic prescriptions will be offered one every six months, and existing patients can request a packet at any time at Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies.

To reduce the risk of misuse or accidental exposure, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends patients dispose of unneeded medications through official take-back programs. When that’s not an option, the agency recommends flushing certain medicines, including opioids, down the toilet, saying the benefits of getting rid of the drugs outweigh any potential environmental risks.

Walmart believes its solution is easier because “it can all happen responsibly at home,” said Marybeth Hays, executive vice president of consumables and health and wellness at Walmart U.S.

At Jewel-Osco, Narcan, the brand name for nasal spray naloxone, can be bought without a prescription for $157.69 to reverse the effects of opioid overdose. The drug will be dispensed by pharmacists at the patient’s request.

Walmart said it will have naloxone for behind-the-counter sale or dispensing by a pharmacist in all states where it’s legally able to do so, including Illinois, this month. Walgreens and CVS began stocking naloxone in the fall.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Medical Association have recommended doctors consider co-prescribing opioids and naloxone under certain circumstances, such as when patients have a history of substance abuse or also use certain other sedatives.

Narcan is a concentrated naloxone nasal spray that competes with opioids to bind with the same receptors in the brain. It normally reverses the effects of opioid overdose in two to three minutes.

In 2016, 1,946 people died after overdosing on opioids in Illinois, according to the state.

crshropshire@chicagotribune.com

lzumbach@chicagotribune.com

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