Surprisingly few homes with kids store opioids safely

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Nearly 70 percent of prescription opioid drugs in US homes with children are not stored safely, a study found.

In a national survey of 681 adults who used opioid pain relievers in the previous year and lived with children 17 and younger, only 31 percent reported safely storing them away from their children. Of homes with older children, ages 7 to 17, just 12 percent reported safe storage.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health defined safe storage as keeping the medication in a locked or latched place for homes with younger children and in a locked place for homes with older children.

“Our work shines a light on the pervasiveness of unsafely stored opioids in American homes with children,” says lead author Eileen McDonald of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy. “Unsafely stored opioids can contribute to accidental ingestions among younger children and pilfering by older children, especially high school students.”

Overdose fatalities almost doubled among those 17 and younger between 1999 and 2015. The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health identified opioids as the second most common illicit drug-use category among 12- to 17-year-olds, after marijuana.

“We know that teens who use these drugs recreationally frequently get them from homes where they are easily accessible, increasing their risk for addiction and overdose,” McDonald says.

Opioids are sending more kids to the hospital

The study also explored attitudes that may have links to medication storage habits. Nearly three-quarters, or 73 percent, of respondents agreed that children can overdose on opioids more easily than adults. Yet just 13 percent “worry” about their children accessing their opioid medications, with parents of older children reporting they were significantly less likely to worry than those with younger kids.

The findings point to a need to educate families about storing pills safely, the researchers say. Also needed, they say, is new technology, such as “smart” packaging that allows only the patient to open a medication bottle, to prevent children from accessing the pills.

“Unfortunately, the current child-resistant packaging that was transformative in reducing medication poisoning in young children will not keep older children and teens safe,” says Andrea Gielen, senior author of the study and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy.

“We need new packaging, such as tamper-resistant personalized pill dispensers,” she says, “to make it easier for parents to keep these potentially dangerous medications inaccessible to older children. In the meantime, parents should keep their medications locked away and dispose of any leftover pills promptly and safely.”

Survey shows lots of people save leftover painkillers

The researchers drew from a nationally representative sample of nearly 5,000 adults to identify people who had used prescription opioids in the past year and lived in a home with children. The online survey took place in 2015.

A grant from the American International Group Inc. supported the work. The findings appear in the journal Pediatrics.

Source: Johns Hopkins University