Google launches effort to fight opioid epidemic

Google is launching a new effort Thursday to make it easier for people to dispose of opioids.

Federal agencies, state governments and local pharmacies helped Google identify 3,500 drug drop-off locations across the country where people are invited to dispose of leftover pain pills and other addictive drugs. Now, using Google Maps or search, users can look up phrases similar to "drug drop off near me” or “medication disposal near me" and find directions to the nearest permanent disposal locations.

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"By bringing opioid disposal site information to Google Maps, Americans are only a search away from helping to address the opioid crisis," Health and Human Services (HHS) chief technology officer Ed Simcox said in a statement. "This type of consumer empowerment--providing easily accessible data--is the kind of innovation needed to improve healthcare."

Google says it partnered with agencies and companies including HHS, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), CVS and Walgreens to determine drop-off locations across seven states. The company partnered with state governments in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan and Pennsylvania – some of the states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic – and it says it hopes to continue expanding.   

An analysis of Google Trends shows that an increasing number of people have been searching "medication disposal near me" and related terms for months. Google search currently offers information on nearby pharmacies, but the new effort will expand those results.

Google in a blog post said the goal is to "help people safely remove excess or unused opioids from their medicine cabinets," citing research that shows 53 percent of prescription drug abuse starts with drugs obtained from relatives or friends.

The company partnered with the DEA last year for "National Prescription Take Back Day," for which Google developed a tool to help people find drug disposal locations.  

"Today, we’re making it easier for Americans to quickly find disposal locations on Google Maps and Search all year round," the company wrote in a post. "A search for queries like 'drug drop off near me' or 'medication disposal near me' will display permanent disposal locations at your local pharmacy, hospital or government building so you can quickly and safely discard your unneeded medication." 

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Google's sister company Verily earlier his year announced that it is partnering with a local health care provider in Ohio to back a treatment facility for those affected by the opioid epidemic.

According to the CDC, an average of 130 people in the U.S. die after overdosing on opioids every day.

Other tech companies have also been launching tools to help fight the opioid epidemic, including data analytics tools that track how many painkillers are being prescribed and wristbands that detect when a person could have overdosed on opioids.