Retail giant Wal-Mart has partnered with a DisposeRX, a startup founded in 2015 aimed at safer and convenient disposal of Class II prescriptions such as opioids. Wal-Mart said it chose to work on this issue because of the growing national opioid addiction problem.
Marybeth Hays, executive vice president of consumables and health & wellness for Walmart U.S., told the media the retailer is covering the cost of this initiative which the retailers believes will have a meaningful impact on opioids that get into the hands of addicts when they are stolen or taken from family or friend’s medicine cabinets.
Hays said opioids and Class II prescription drugs often sit in medicine cabinets because it’s not always convenient to take them to dedicated takeback centers or events.
Wal-Mart will give customers filling Class II drug scripts a small packet that resembles the food often included in fresh flowers. The pharmacy tech will explain to the customer how to dispose of any leftover drugs by emptying the packet contents into to the pill bottle and adding warm water.
Dr. John Holaday, CEO and co-founder of DisposeRX, said once the packet mixes with warm water the leftover pills are dissolved into a gel and the entire bottle can be thrown into the trash with no harm to the environment. He said the drugs will not leach out of the gel. Holaday said the product has been on the market for about six months and is being tested in hospitals up to this announcement with Wal-Mart.
“The product has undergone extensive testing to see if the opioids could be extracted from the gel which degrades rapidly. The contents merely become gases that vent out over time,” he explained during a media call Tuesday.
The DisposeRX packets will be handed out immediately in all of Wal-Mart’s 4,700 pharmacy locations at no cost to customers. The company said in the states of Rhode Island and Washington the product is still being tested by a third-party and until that testing is complete another disposal solution will be given to customers filling Class II prescriptions.
Hays said the retailer sought to get out in front of the growing problem in which 2 million U.S. consumers have substance abuse problems and 65% of people using drugs help support their addiction by getting drugs from the leftovers of family and friends.
“The health and safety of our patients is a critical priority; that’s why we’re taking an active role in fighting our nation’s opioid issue – an issue that has affected so many families and communities across America,” Hays said. “While this issue requires many resources to solve, we are confident this unique, easy-to-use disposal solution, DisposeRx, will make a meaningful impact on the lives of many.”
Hays declined to say how many scripts the retailer fills annually of Class II opioids, and she said the retailer has not taken back leftover pills from customers in the past but has sold an alternative disposal kit. Hays added the no-cost, dispose-at-home option is a better solution for customers.
“About one-third of medications sold go unused. Too often, these dangerous narcotics remain unsecured where children, teens or visitors may have access. I commend Walmart for taking this innovative approach to help keep unused prescription drugs out of the wrong hands,” said U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.
In April 2017, Wal-Mart and its pharmacy competitors Walgreens and CVS along with drugmaker McKesson and providers Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen were sued by the Cherokee Nation in tribal court located in Tahlequah, Okla. The Cherokee Nation claimed opioid abuse among its tribal population was rampant and fueled in part because drug makers and distributors have not done enough prevent illegal prescribed opioid painkillers.
The defendants recently won round two of this bout after countersuing for an injunction that forces the tribe to refile their complaint in state or federal court. U.S. District Court Judge Terence Kern on Jan. 11 granted that injunction saying the tribe doesn’t have jurisdiction to sue non-members in its own court. Kern was sympathetic to the Cherokee effort to stem the proliferation among its people in his 25-page opinion. He told the tribe they were free to refile their claim in other non-tribal courts.
Chrissi Ross Nimmo, deputy attorney general for the Cherokee, disagreed with the ruling.
“It’s disappointing that non-Indians can come into a tribal community and decimate it, and not be held to answer to it in that community’s court system,” she said.
Nimmo said the Cherokee wouldn’t waste time filing an appeal of Kern’s ruling. But, the tribe will refile the suit in state court where the Cherokee have standing as Oklahoma citizens.
Wal-Mart has declined to comment on the pending lawsuits regarding opioid misuse.