After recovery from a major or minor surgery, patients often stow away unused opioids that were prescribed for temporary pain control. Unused opioids endanger everyone in the household, especially young people. Opioids should be disposed as soon as the pain subsides or the prescription’s “use by” date has expired.
Still, many people leave bottles of prescription opioids looming in their medicine cabinets, with more than a billion unused pills existing in American households. Opioid prescriptions include brand-name drugs such as Percocet, Vicodin, Lortab, as well as forms of oxycodone and morphine, which should be indicated on the label. It is important to rid the house of these drugs as soon as possible for these reasons:
▪ Targeting. Neighbors, family members or individuals with addiction disorders target people with unused opioid prescriptions. It’s possible for a family with a drug use disorder to steal an opioid supply, or a drug-seeking individual to burglarize a home in pursuit of prescriptions. Always keep medical information, especially prescription drug use information, private.
▪ The temptation to use. People are prone to self-prescribe a leftover opioid or keep it on hand for later use. Opioids are highly addictive, deadly substances and should not be treated as over-the-counter drugs.
▪ Protecting young people. Opioids in the home are a major threat to children. Having opioids in the household only increases the chances of a tragic accident. Adolescents initially use opioids as party drugs, or sell them, but quickly become addicted. People in this age group do not have the restraint or inhibition to resist taking an opioid when they find it. Every year, nearly 12,000 children or teens mistakenly take an opioid.
If every mom in America got up right now and flushed unused opioids down the toilet, children’s lives would be saved, and many teenagers would avoid addiction. It’s a simple step every person can take.
To safely, ethically remove opioid prescriptions from your household, flush them down the toilet. This is the surest and timeliest method for eliminating the risk, and these guidelines are in line with recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Other options include returning the medication to a pharmacy, a fire department or a police department. Opioids must be removed from the home as soon as possible — it is necessary for the security and safety of every American family.
Dr. Raeford Brown is a pediatric anesthesiologist for University of Kentucky HealthCare and the chair of the FDA Advisory Committee on Analgesics and Anesthetics.