Walgreens launches effort to curb drug abuse

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Walgreens is launching a new effort to help fight the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse.

The national pharmacy chain announced Tuesday that it will begin installing disposal stations for customers to safely throw away unneeded or older prescriptions at more than 500 drugstores.

Walgreens will also make naloxone, a life-saving drug to counter overdoses, available without a prescription in over 35 states.

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The company discussed the efforts at an event Tuesday at a flagship store in Washington, D.C., joined by Michael Botticelli, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and lawmakers from Walgreens's home state of Illinois, Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkWhite House dismisses GOP senator's likening of Obama to 'drug dealer in chief' The Trail 2016: Focus on the Foundation White House: 0M Iran payment wasn’t ransom MORE (R) and Rep. Bob Dold (R).

“By continuing to counsel our patients on the safe and effective use of medications and by making this opioid antidote more accessible, we’re going to be proactive in fixing this problem,” said Richard Ashwood, the president of Pharmacy and Retail Operations for Walgreens.

“I am proud to say that Walgreen is leading the way in the fight against prescription drug abuse.”

Ashwood said Walgreens is committed to making naloxone more accessible throughout the country. Last week, Walgreens began offering the antidote without a prescription in their New York pharmacies. They will introduce it later this month at Indiana and Ohio locations.

Botticelli praised the company for offering a safe way for the public to dispose of prescription drugs.

“Thanks to efforts, like Walgreens, and the efforts they are announcing today, people won’t have to wait to safely dispose of their drugs and obtain naloxone,” he said. “They can just go to their local drug store any time.”

Botticelli said most abusers get their prescription drugs from the medicine cabinets of family and friends, making it important to provide a safe and convenient method of disposal.

The initiatives are only the latest effort to combat the growing abuse of opioids, powerful prescription painkillers.

President Obama has made countering the epidemic a top priority.

The administration’s fiscal 2017 budget unveiled Tuesday includes “1.1 billion dollars in new funding to expand access to treatment for prescription drugs abuse and heroin use to help people get the treatment they need and sustain their recovery,” Botticelli said.

The budget also calls for funds to increase access to naloxone and to boost targeted law enforcement efforts against drug abuse.

There is also bipartisan support for tackling the issue in Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellJuan Williams: Trump's race politics will destroy GOP Rank-and-file Republicans fear lame-duck vote on pricey funding bill Clinton, Trump sharpen attacks MORE (R-Ky.), whose home state has suffered from the epidemic, has said he hopes to be able to pass legislation this year and discussed the matter during a recent meeting with Obama.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is moving legislation, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act.

Prescription drug abuse continues to be a leading public health risk, said Ashwood, citing studies that show over 6.5 million Americans abused a prescription drug in 2014.