In the past 15 years, the number of accidental overdose deaths from narcotic painkillers (opioids) has quadrupled. This staggering increase is likely caused at least in part by greater environmental availability of opioid drugs. Doctors prescribe opioids to an estimated 1 in 5 patients with non-cancer pain, and many patients end up with leftover painkillers that they may share with friends or family members.
Sharing of prescription painkillers is widespread; in fact, a research letter recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that about 20% of people who have been prescribed narcotic painkillers have shared their medications with a friend. Furthermore, almost half of people prescribed opioids reported not knowing or not following through with safe storage and disposal practices. When opioids are not securely stored or carefully disposed of, it becomes easier for someone who struggles with substance abuse to access those drugs. Between the intentional sharing and lax storage practices, it’s no surprise that the majority of people who misuse prescription opioids get them for free from friends or relatives.
Image Source: www.cdc.gov
Tips for Safe Storage and Disposal
If you have been prescribed an opioid medication, you can help combat opioid abuse by carefully following your doctor or pharmacist’s instructions for storage and disposal. You can also:
• Keep your medication in a locked box or cabinet so that no one else can access it.
• Keep track of when and how much medicine you take so that you always know how much should be left.
• Flush leftover medications down the toilet (but only after checking with your pharmacist and local waste disposal company to make sure this is permitted).
• Mix unused medication with an unappealing substance (such as kitty litter or coffee grounds), use duct tape to seal that mixture in a plastic bag, and throw the bag in your household trash.
• Contact local law enforcement to see if there are any medication take-back programs in your area.
While there’s no quick solution to the opioid epidemic in the US, being responsible with any narcotics you are prescribed can help curb the problem. For more information about addiction and substance abuse including symptoms and treatments, visit our Addiction Substance Abuse Condition Page.