Although the federal government recently declared the opioid epidemic an “official public health emergency,” it has yet to devise a comprehensive plan for effectively combatting it. Meanwhile, individual Americans are newly empowered to play a meaningful role in curtailing the crisis all on their own: DisposeRx and Walmart/Sam’s Club have just unveiled a strategic initiative to eliminate the central driver in more than 70 percent of opioid addictions, overdoses and deaths: opioid painkillers that remain unused in patients’ medicine cabinets.
Walmart and Sam’s Club have begun distributing DisposeRx drug disposal packets — the size and shape of a packet of honey — from their in-house pharmacies for the safe and permanent elimination of unwanted, unused or expired medications.
Improper drug disposal is a major contributor toward the opioid epidemic, which is why we are fully committed to stopping it where it often starts: in the medicine cabinet. DisposeRx packets contain a biodegradable powder that, when mixed with water, dissolves drugs and sequesters them in a viscous gel which may be safely discarded in the trash. These packets will be given free of charge to customers receiving opioid prescriptions at Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies nationwide.
Each DisposeRx packet is activated by combining its non-toxic contents with tap water inside the prescription vial and shaking. The result is a solidifying gel of cross-linking polymers that permanently sequesters pills, tablets and capsules, all within their original prescription vial. It’s a development long in the making, and right on time.
The opioid epidemic may not dominate many national news cycles, but it’s certainly upending America’s actuarial tables. The scope of the carnage is truly breathtaking.
Consider just some of the shocking data recently available: Far more of us died in 2016 from drug overdoses — roughly 64,000 Americans, of which, more than 42,000 from opioid use — than died during the entirety of the Vietnam War; that’s a 28 percent increase in drug deaths from the year before; drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50, as well as the leading cause of accidental death for us all; and, for the second year in a row, life expectancy in the U.S. is shorter than it was just one year ago.
If you don’t personally know someone who is in the grips of the opioid crisis, your friends, coworkers and neighbors certainly do. That’s the nature of an epidemic. And this one reaches every community in the country, transcending both geographic and demographic boundaries. Plus, it’s exhibiting no sign of abatement. To the contrary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assert that we are now experiencing “more than an exponential increase,” and the trend line will be “at least as steep…if not steeper.”
These numbers are horrifying. Worse, still, are the individual stories of loss and despair…and their deep implication for the healthy future of our country.
More than 200 million opioid prescriptions are dispensed in the United States each year, and yet, between 67 and 92 percent of the patients for whom they are prescribed fail to finish them. No one can be certain how many unused opioids lie about, just waiting to be diverted to abuse by friends, family, and opportunistic passersby, but an expose on the subject late last year posited there may be “billions.”
What is certain, though, is the imperative to educate patients about the desperate need to curb drug overdoses that begin in the home, hospital and hospices, and to provide an easy-to-use and fail-safe product for drug disposal. Because once the cycle of addiction begins, it requires an ever-increasing amount of drugs to manage tolerance and prevent withdrawal. Prescription costs become prohibitive, and the opioids themselves, more difficult to obtain. It’s why so many turn to the less expensive, readily available alternative: heroin. Even more frightening is the recent addition of fentanyl to street heroin, a lethal combination that helps explain the disturbing spike in American deaths, as well as the annual, in-excess-of-$300 billion-price-tag associated with the U.S. opioid epidemic.
Sadly, current efforts to solve the opioid crisis are failing. And, while our government agencies lack regulatory control over drug disposal, they also fail to advance uniform guidelines to address that process. There are many approaches to drug disposal – drug take back programs, flushing and mixing with charcoal or kitty litter being a few– but I’m a firm believer that DisposeRx is the most effective, permanent, convenient and affordable solution available and we’re proud that Walmart agreed. With Walmart, we are committed to curbing the cycle of drug overdose, addiction and death that often begins in the medicine cabinet.
Dr. John Holaday is the Chairman and CEO of DisposeRX, manufacturer of the eponymous patented blend of solidifying materials that provide a solution for the safe disposal of unwanted, unused or expired medications.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.