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CVS to Address Drug Disposal Concerns in Massachusetts

By Jason Poquette,
BPharm, R.Ph

Next to “Why is my copay so high?” one of the most frequent questions we get in the pharmacy are questions about how to properly dispose of unwanted or expired medications. CVS Health, which operates the CVS pharmacy chain, just announced they will install 42 drug disposal units in stores throughout The Bay State. The Governor seemed pleased, as unused opioid prescriptions have been cited as a frequent source of drug diversion and abuse. “Addiction can often start at home in our own medicine cabinets, and today we are pleased to partner with CVS Health and build on the efforts to address this public health crisis across the Commonwealth,” said Gov. Charlie Baker.

Once installed these units will provide patients a safe and discreet way to remove unwanted medications from their home without the risk of contaminating water supplies or contributing to unintentional exposure to these medicines. This latest effort is in addition to the nearly 40 drop-box units donated to police departments around the state and $150,000 in grants to hospitals and health centers to deal with our opioid problem here in Massachusetts.

The CVS pharmacy website reminds visitors that “1 in 4 teens has misused or abused prescription drugs. Most get them from the family medicine cabinet.” The website also includes a “Find a Drop Box Location Near You” search feature.

Other pharmacies appear to be following suit with programs of their own. For example, some Walmart pharmacies recently began distribution of a free home-disposal powder packet known as DisposeRx. Patients simply add a little warm water to the unused tablets or capsules in the prescription vial, then pour in the DisposeRx powder. After shaking, the liquid becomes a solid gel which can be safely disposed of in the trash.

Walgreens also has drug disposal kiosks in some of their stores, though only about 10 are available throughout Massachusetts according to information from their website.

As a pharmacist I applaud these efforts by pharmacies to provide easy, accessible and safe solutions for the disposal of unwanted or expired drugs. Now is probably a good time, if you haven’t done so in a while, to go through your own medication cabinet and set aside anything expired or unnecessary and plan to bring it to a local disposal unit. If you are unsure of where to find one, check out your pharmacy website, your local board of health or even your nearest police department.

Some people may wonder, however, whether or not these efforts (and the expense involved) will make a significant difference in our current opioid addiction epidemic. That’s a more complicated question for sure. I would like to think it will help, even if just a little.

And this problem certainly isn’t going away.

It is too soon to tell yet, but some early evidence suggests that 2017 may be yet another year of increasing fatalities related to drug overdoses in our state. Dr. Kevin Hill of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston works on the front lines of our addiction problem. In a January 11, 2018 article written by reporter Martha Bebinger for WBUR he is quoted saying “I don’t think anyone…is going to feel like things are getting better at this point.”

They say that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Our battle with opioid addiction as a culture sure seems like a long one. And a few more drug disposal options may not seem like much. But even if they are only small steps, they are steps none the less. I’ll take it.

And I still don’t know why your copay is so high.