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Counter Talk: 5 steps to combat the opioid epidemic

America is in the midst of an epidemic that shows no signs of slowing down.

According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency department visits due to suspected opioid overdoses continued to climb — about 30% — from July 2016 to September 2017. Perhaps more alarming: 40% of opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid, as reported by the CDC.

While President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency last October, change is not happening quickly enough.

Instead of waiting for legislation and administrative agencies to set the precedent, it’s time for retail pharmacies to take action — and arm consumers with tools to fight this epidemic, too. Some of these tools include:

1. Participating in National Take-Back Days: Several times per year, the Drug Enforcement Administration hosts a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day to provide a safe, convenient and responsible means of disposing of medications. Since the event began in 2010, the DEA has collected nearly 5,000 tons of unwanted drugs. In April, nearly 950,000 lbs. of unused medication was collected at more than 5,800 collection sites.

Retail pharmacies can partner with local law enforcement agencies to host or sponsor Take Back Day programs, and also provide educational resources on prescription drug misuse prevention to participants.

2. Installing medication collection kiosks: Retail pharmacies are making it easier for consumers to dispose of unwanted medication with collection kiosks. Walgreens and waste disposal company Stericycle Environmental Solutions teamed up to install more than 600 drug collection kiosks in its stores nationwide to provide a safe, convenient and free way for consumers to return unused medication.

In the first ongoing national effort of its kind by a retailer, Walgreens has successfully collected and safely disposed of more than 155 tons of medication through Stericycle collection kiosks placed in more than 600 pharmacies across 45 states and the District of Columbia. The retailer has ambitious plans to expand to 1,500 kiosks and collect more than 300 tons of unwanted medication over the next two years.

3. Providing pharmaceutical mailback envelopes: Mailback envelopes enable patients — and a retail pharmacy’s own employees — to safely remove their unneeded medication from their homes and prevent opportunities for opioid abuse. Medications are placed within these prepaid, pre-addressed envelopes, which can be dropped into any USPS mailbox. They are then transported to a facility for safe disposal.

Stericycle Environmental Solutions offers waterproof and tear-resistant Seal&Send Medication MailBack Envelopes. The award-winning envelopes feature a nondescript design without any markings to identify the contents, a pre-addressed label to the collector’s registered address, paid postage, a unique identification number for tracking, and an instruction card. The envelopes are carefully tracked and properly disposed of at a DEA registered facility.

4. Offering in-home disposal packets: To limit the availability of prescription opioids in the United States, some retail pharmacies are introducing a program that will help consumers dispose of unused pills safely at home. Many in-home disposal packets, such as DisposeRx, allow consumers to chemically treat unused pills to throw away at home. The packets contain a powder that, when added to a pill bottle with tap water and shaken, forms a biodegradable gel that can be thrown away in the trash.

5. Limiting Prescriptions: As of early April 2018, at least 28 states have enacted legislation related to opioid prescription limits. Some retail pharmacies have enacted their own restrictions on the maximum amount of opioid prescriptions given in a specified time frame with a limit on a day’s total dosage.

By offering consumers the opportunity to properly dispose of unused or expired medications, along with proper education, retail pharmacies are taking one big step in the right direction of combatting a tragic epidemic.

Maricha Ellis Stericycle Environmental SolutionsMaricha Ellis is vice president of marketing and sales operations at Stericycle Environmental Solutions, a leading provider of environmental and regulated waste management solutions.
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