WASHINGTON, Feb. 10 (UPI) -- Walgreens has launched a strategy to combat prescription drug abuse by allowing the sale of heroin overdose antidote naloxone available without a prescription.
The Illinois-based company will begin its effort by introducing medication disposal kiosks in more than 500 company drug stores across 39 states and Washington, D.C., primarily in 24-hour locations. Walgreens hopes the move will make the disposal of drugs safer, easier and more convenient, which could reduce the misuse of medications and the rise in overdose deaths.
Opioid antidote drug naloxone, administered by injection or nasal spray, can reverse the effects of heroin or other opioid drugs during an overdose. Walgreens made naloxone avaiable without prescription last week in New York and will introduce the program to Indiana and Ohio later this month.
Once the program is complete, Walgreens hopes to make naloxone available without prescription in more than 5,800 Walgreens stores out of its nearly 8,200. The company said it will work with drug regulators in states where a prescription is required in hopes to implement the program.
"Walgreens pharmacists play an important role in counseling patients on the safe use of their medications, and now we are leading the way in retail pharmacy's fight against prescription drug abuse," Richard Ashworth, Walgreens president of pharmacy and retail operations, said in a statement. "We understand the challenges our communities face, and we stand ready to help our patients and customers lead healthier lives. When the stakes are this high, the solutions must be comprehensive."
Walgreens' move comes amid a federal effort announced last week by President Barack Obama, proposing $1.1 billion in funding to combat the abuse of prescription opioids and heroin amid a nationwide addiction crisis.
Opioids, a class of drugs including prescription pain medicine and heroin, caused 28,648 deaths in 2014, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics indicate. The agency also found a increase in heroin-related deaths and in deaths involving synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.
"Providing safe and convenient disposal options for prescription drugs and expanding access to the lifesaving overdose-reversal drug naloxone are critical parts of our national strategy to stop the prescription drug and heroin overdose epidemic, along with effective enforcement, prevention and treatment," National Drug Control Policy Director Michael Botticelli said in a statement.
Earlier this month, CVS said it was expanding its sale of Narcan, another heroin overdose antidote, to Ohio. CVS already sells Narcan at a cost from $40 to $50 in 15 states and aims to sell it to 20 more, including Ohio, in 2016. CVS sells Narcan without a prescription in states where it is legal to do so.