In response to the opioid crisis, a national drugstore chain has installed permanent medication disposal receptacles in some of its pharmacies in Massachusetts.
Walgreens has put drop-off boxes in pharmacies at 13 of its stores in Massachusetts, including the one on Sumner Avenue in Springfield – the only western Massachusetts location – where people can dispose of unused or unwanted medications at no cost and no questions asked.
Brad Ulrich, a regional vice president of Walgreen Co., said many people don’t know what to do with prescription and non-prescription medications they no longer use.
"Many people do not release it is not a good idea to flush ( medications) in the toilet or put them in the trash, for environmental reasons," he said. " We need to make the safe disposal of medication easier and these kiosks do just that."
The Sumner Ave. Walgreens was chosen for the program because it is a busy location open 24-hours-a-day, according to Ulrich. The store’s pharmacy manager, Nicole Gee, said the drug disposal receptacle is clearly marked, and easily assessable near the pharmacy counter.
" People can just come at their convenience. If they need our help we will assist them,but they do not need to speak to anyone," said Gee.
In announcing the program, Walgreens referenced national statistics that most people who misuse prescription drugs get them from a family member or friend and will often graduate to using heroin.
At a press conference promoting the program, Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal praised Walgreens for its efforts to fight drug abuse.
" I think what Walgreens is doing to provide a safe opportunity for unwanted medications to be disposed of is really an important part of the solution," said Neal. " We always hear these stories about the house break-in where people go to the medicine cabinet of senior citizens."
Health officials say opioid overdoses kill four people a day in Massachusetts -- a statistic Neal said is “pretty staggering.”
" Everybody knows a family member, a neighbor, or a friend who is addicted. Getting them to step out of the shadow of shame to seek help is an important part of it," Neal observed.
Neal said overprescribing pain killers is one cause of the opioid crisis, but he said a balance has to be struck so as not to harm people who legitimately need pain medications. Massachusetts recently put restrictions on dispensing opioids by limiting first-time prescriptions to a one-week supply.
Walgreens drug disposal program was also praised by Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni and Hampden County Sheriff Mike Ashe. Ashe said 90 percent of inmates in the county jail have substance abuse problems and many report their first drug use occurred as teens, or pre-teens, with access to someone’s medicine cabinet.
" We look at fighting crime and incarceration, this is a great step forward in terms of being part of that solution," said Ashe.
Also in response to the rise in drug overdose deaths, Walgreens is making the opioid antidote Naloxone available without a prescription in Massachusetts.
Mercy Medical Center will offer free training on how to use Naloxone this Friday at the Sumner Avenue Walgreens from noon to 3 p.m.