How We’re Battling the Opioid Epidemic in the United States

Opioid abuse is devastating families and entire communities, and the numbers continue to rise. This problem is especially prevalent in the United States, where WBA operates Walgreens and Duane Reade pharmacies.

A person placing old medication into a safe medication disposal kiosk in Walgreens drugstore

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017, an average of more than 130 people in the United States died each day as a result of drug overdoses involving opioids (including prescription opioid medication and/or illicit opioid drugs)1. Now more than ever, the United States needs collaborative solutions to the opioid epidemic. WBA and its Board of Directors care deeply about the devastating impact of the opioid epidemic on our communities. We encourage you to read our Board’s report on its oversight of WBA’s management of risks related to the dispensing of prescription opioid medication in the United States. Given WBA’s leadership in the industry and Walgreens major presence in communities across the United States, we have launched an aggressive, multi-million dollar effort to help address the U.S. opioid epidemic. Our plan includes steps to:

  1. Save lives, first and foremost
  2. Prevent misuse and curb abuse of prescription drugs
  3. Reduce future prescription drug abuse

Read more about the specific ways we’re addressing each step of the plan.

Save Lives

All Walgreens stores stock Narcan, an FDA-approved nasal spray form of naloxone – and more importantly, our pharmacists can dispense the medication without requiring a prescription in all of our pharmacies in the U.S., District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. By stocking Narcan in all our pharmacies, we’re making the opioid overdose antidote more readily available for families and emergency care providers to prevent needless deaths. We dispense naloxone in accordance with each state’s pharmacy regulations, and our pharmacists provide instructions on how to administer the medication. This includes calling 911, as naloxone is not a substitute for medical care, and anyone who is administered the medication should seek immediate medical attention. We also support Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations by educating patients about naloxone when they are dispensed a high dose of certain prescription opioids or those who may be at risk of accidental overdose.

Prevent Misuse


Safely disposing of unwanted and unused medication by getting them out of the home or rendering them safe are the best ways to help ensure the medications are not accidently or intentionally misused by someone else.

Walgreens provides year-round drug disposal options in all of our pharmacies nationwide at no cost to customers. Using two resources – safe medication disposal kiosks and DisposeRx packets – we’re striving to make the disposal of medications easier and more convenient, while helping to reduce the misuse of medications and the rise of overdose deaths.

  • Safe medication disposal kiosks: Walgreens is proud to be the first retail pharmacy chain to offer safe medication disposal kiosks in our drugstores. Today, we have installed 1,500 kiosks across 46 states* and the District of Columbia and have collected and safely disposed of more than 885 tons or 1.7 million pounds of unwanted medications. We worked state-by-state to obtain regulatory clearance to expand the availability of safe medication disposal kiosks. These kiosks provide a year-round opportunity to safely and conveniently dispose of unwanted prescriptions, including controlled substances and over-the-counter medications at no cost. We also partnered with Google to make it easier for individuals to find the nearest Walgreens with a safe medication disposal kiosk by searching in Google, Google Maps or Google Assistant for “drug drop off near me” or “medication disposal near me”.
  • DisposeRx packets are the most recent addition to Walgreens ongoing effort to combat the opioid epidemic and are available upon request in our pharmacies* without safe medication disposal kiosks and allow customers to safely discard their unwanted medications at home. According to the manufacturer, DisposeRX packets contain a blend of proprietary solidifying materials that provide a site-of-use solution for the disposal of medication2. When water and the DisposeRx powder are added to unwanted medications in the prescription vial and shaken, the drugs are rendered unavailable and unusable, allowing for safe disposal at home.
  • National Prescription Drug Take Back Day: We also continue to participate in the DEA’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, held twice a year (Fall and Spring) when select Walgreens stores throughout the country serve as a collection point for law enforcement who collect unwanted, unused or expired medication for safe disposal.

Reducing Further Addiction


We can all play a role in helping to prevent further casualties of the opioid crisis. WBA is working to do this tactically by limiting the accessibility of narcotic medications by unauthorized individuals, and systemically by investing in programs that educate about the risks of opioids.

  • High Security Safes: Walgreens has expanded its use of high security safes with time delay locking capabilities as part of its effort to curb the misuse of opioids and other medications. The safes are currently in more than 8,600 Walgreens pharmacies across the United States, and we continue to expand their use in the rest of our stores. The new and upgraded safes are designed to prevent diversion of controlled substances by averting the accessibility of narcotic medications by unauthorized individuals and have replaced earlier versions of the technology previously in use in select pharmacies. We have seen a marked reduction in burglaries and robberies in stores where the safes have been deployed. The safes are constructed of heavy steel and feature time delay locking capabilities that, when activated, remain locked for several minutes before allowing the pharmacy staff access. This prevents the immediate availability of the items to secure controlled substances, including opioids, frequently targeted in robberies and thefts. Ample signage throughout the store informs the public that time delay locked safes are in use.  
  • Education and Awareness. WBA continues to work to raise awareness and educate communities about opioid abuse. We reached thousands of young people with the #ItEndsWithUs campaign, which launched at WE Day UN in New York City in September 2017 and through nine additional WE Day events during fiscal years 2018 and 2019. The #ItEndsWithUs campaign provided teens with resources and positive steps to take in their own communities to address addiction and medication abuse.

For our consumer audience, in 2018 we launched the Combat Opioid Abuse page on, which provides educational information on naxolone, safe medication disposal, and opioids, as well as where to find help and resources.

1 CDC/NCHS, National Vital Statistics System, Mortality. CDC WONDER, Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC; 2018.
2 DisposeRX website:
* Walgreens pharmacies in Iowa and Nebraska without safe medication disposa kiosks offer alternative drug disposal options available upon request in the pharmacy at no cost.

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