The tech giant aims to help people with opioid prescriptions get rid of excess pills in the hopes of preventing them from being abused.
Tech giant Google wants to do its part to combat the opioid epidemic by making it easy for users to find places where the can drop off unneeded medications.
If people search for “drug drop off near me” or “medication disposal near me,” Google Maps will find nearby pharmacies, hospitals, or government buildings where they can dispose of pills that could otherwise be abused.
The project was part of a cooperative effort between Google, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services, and state governments as well as private pharmacy companies like Walgreens and CVS.
“Addiction to opioids can start after just five days of use, and the majority of prescription drug abuse (53%) starts with drugs obtained from family and friends,” wrote Dane Glasglow, Google Maps’ vice president of product, in a blog post. “That’s why Google wants to help people get rid of leftover pills that are sitting in people’s medicine cabinets, and to make drug disposal locations easier for people to find with a simple search.”
Such medications are usually prescribed for good reason, especially in cases of recovery after surgeries for ailments like broken bones, burns, or serious illness.
“Treating pain adequately helps recovery, reduces the downstream psychiatric and psychological effects,” said Dr. Elliot J. Krane. “In the absence of risk factors or concerns about the child’s home environment, I am more concerned about deleterious effects of untreated pain than I am about creating somebody with substance abuse disorder.”
Some families might think it’s clever to keep these powerful painkillers for future use, but health experts warn that just having the medications in the house can boost the potential for abuse.
“You should not keep them for use for a future time,” Dr. Linda J. Mason said. “These are for a specific surgery.”
Google’s ease in involving itself in such an intervention should come as no surprise to those who are aware of the massive amounts of data the tech giant has kept on its users. A study has found that Google can predict the onset of overdoses in a given area by tracking certain search terms.
“For a number of fiscal and practical reasons, data on heroin use have been of poor quality, which has hampered the ability to halt the growing epidemic,” the researchers wrote. “Internet search data, such as those made available by Google Trends, have been used as a low-cost, real-time data source for monitoring and predicting a variety of public health outcomes.”