Photo by Chaunce Shrewsbury: Kirk Heinz, owner, founder and pharmacist at Kirk's Pharmacy, stands behind the counter displaying the contents distributed as part of the recently launched HCA-sponsored medication lock-up program, including free lock-up bags for opioids.
Photo by Chaunce Shrewsbury: Kirk Heinz, owner, founder and pharmacist at Kirk's Pharmacy, stands behind the counter displaying the contents distributed as part of the recently launched HCA-sponsored medication lock-up program, including free lock-up bags for opioids.

In an effort to curb opioid misuse, Kirk’s Pharmacy launched a program April 1 offering free lock bags to customers obtaining opioid prescriptions.

The pharmacy is handing out up to 1,000 locking bags at its Eatonville and two Puyallup locations at no cost to customers who choose to participate. By opting in, people also pledge to lock up their medications. Outcomes will be determined by an optional phone or email survey given at the end of the program, July 1.

Kirk’s co-owner and pharmacist Andrew Heinz said the program is being funded by a federal grant obtained by the Washington State Health Care Authority. HCA is partnering with Kirk's, which is the flagship location for the pilot program and is the only pharmacy participating for now.

The new program is a part of the HCA’s opioid-misuse prevention campaign, “Starts with One,” which educates people about the dangers of prescription drug misuse, safe usage, storage, disposal and how people with an addiction can get help.

“Seventy-five percent of opioid misuse starts with people using medication that wasn’t prescribed for them, usually from a friend or a family member,” HCA’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Charissa Fotinos said in a press release. “Simple steps, like locking up your medications and safely disposing of them, can stop them from being misused.”

The Washington State Department of Health reported 744 opioid overdose deaths in Washington during 2018, the last year with conclusive statistical data, according to the DOH website.

According to a press release, HCA conducted a study last June that indicated 80 percent of people surveyed believed securing their prescriptions is important. Only 26 percent of participants said they actually did, however, a top reason for why not being that they lacked a secure place to store their medicines.

Heinz said a medicine cabinet, sock drawer or under a pillow is not an acceptable or secure place to keep opioid prescriptions. The lock bags distributed, however, provide people with a secure storage place.

The provided bags “are made from a sturdy nylon material and have a standard keyed locking system which both reduce the chance of misuse,” HCA Account Executive Katie Haslebacher wrote in an email.

“As folks are instructed to quarantine or shelter in place due to COVID-19, it is important to recognize that the likelihood for opioid misuse greatly increases in our homes and in our community,” Haslebacher wrote.

According to the HCA press release, securing a person's pledge to store medication is important because studies show people are more likely to follow through when they make that promise.

Heinz said he believes HCA chose Kirk’s Pharmacy to flagship the lock-up program because of its participation in a medication take-back program hosted by HCA a few years ago.

“We were one of the first pharmacies in Pierce County to take back all medications,” Heinz said.

According to HCA's “Starts with One” website, properly disposing of pills if people have some left over is as important as locking them up.

Disposing of leftover medication properly, like turning them in at drug take-back sites, people who aren't prescribed those medicines can't access and misuse them. According to the website, proper pill destruction and disposal also prevents further environmental impacts that flushing pills down the toilet or sink has caused.

Because of the HCA drug take-back program, many pharmacies have the capability to take medications and dispose of them properly, Heinz said. It’s now common practice, he added.

HCA offers an online interactive map at takebackyourmeds.org that’s identifies local medication take-back stations. Many pharmacies, city halls and emergency service stations are now collection centers..

Heinz said he and the rest of Kirk’s staff are always excited to participate in efforts helping end opioid and other medication misuse.

“We’re honored and excited to be the test pilot and to start this to see how effective [it is] and how it works out,” Heinz said. “We’re excited to see what the results are for the project and hope it can be something that can be replicated… because if everyone locks up their meds then hopefully we can really put a curve on the addiction problem with opioids.”

Because of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home-Stay Healthy” proclamation on March 23, Kirk’s is no longer allowing customers inside its pharmacy locations. Customers can place orders by phone, however. Prescriptions and other products are now being delivered to customers curbside.

Kirk's Eatonville’s location is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

For information and resources about opioid misuse, prevention, overdoses or treatment can be go to HCA’s “Starts with One” website, getthefactsrx.com. The 24/7 Washington Recovery Help Line can be reached at 866-789-1511.