It’s one of the least talked about contributors to the nation’s opioid epidemic. The millions of bottles of highly addictive painkillers that are sitting in people’s medicine cabinets, collecting dust.
It’s hard to get rid of the pills safely, even though the glut leads to tens of thousands of deaths each year. Meanwhile, doctors are writing three times as many prescriptions for opioids as they did in the 1990s.
It’s a lopsided equation of supply and demand. We applaud Walgreens for being among the first corporations to step up and, at least, try to solve the problem.
The drugstore chain said this week that it will install more than 500 opioid disposal kiosks in 39 states and Washington, D.C. The rollout started in San Luis Obispo. Other, mostly 24-hour Walgreens stores will get kiosks soon.
And so it’s somewhat disappointing that Walgreens, a company poised to gobble up rival Rite Aid for $17.2 billion, is only installing 500 kiosks. The chain has about 8,200 locations across North America, and 629 in California.
Walgreens could do more, but it’s better than nothing.
It’s better than waiting for Congress to defy lobbying dollars from drugmakers and pass a bill, introduced by Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, to expand drug take-back programs. It’s also better than hanging onto opioids for fear of tainting the water supply by flushing them down the toilet or paying for a kit to toss them safely in the trash.
We urge rival CVS Pharmacy to follow suit with a kiosk program of its own.
Already, CVS has led the way in making naloxone, an overdose antidote, available without a prescription in about a dozen states, not including California. Walgreens has agreed to do the same, but at about 5,800 of its stores in 35 states.
The shameful rub, of course, is that naloxone, a generic drug known by one of its patented names, Narcan, isn’t cheap. It can cost between $40 and $80 a dose, and at least one maker of it, Rancho Cucamonga’s Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, has been accused of price gouging as demand for the drug has skyrocketed.
Talk about a lopsided equation. It’s just one more conversation the country needs to have about solving this epidemic of opioid abuse.