During the busy holiday season, with its frequent social gatherings and celebrations, many people enter our homes — and some may venture into our medicine cabinets as well. Easily accessible medications have the potential to be misused and abused by anyone; often people we least suspect. Now is a good time to think about safeguarding those vital meds and useful advice is readily at hand.
The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) and pharmaceutical manufacturer Purdue Pharma are working together to remind parents, grandparents, and all other family members about simple — yet important — steps that can be taken to protect prescription medications through their educational initiative, SafeguardMyMeds.org.
In a press release, the organization cited research that found every day more than 2,500 teenagers abuse prescription medications for the first time. Most people (70%) aged 12 and older who abused prescription pain relievers said they got them from a friend or relative. Therefore, proper storage of prescription medicines in the home can play a vital role in preventing misuse and abuse.
A national survey in 2010 of more than 1,000 adults conducted by Infogroup/ORC showed that an overwhelming majority of Americans (94%) understand it is extremely or very important to safely store and dispose of prescription medication, but many are not doing enough to protect those drugs. More than two-thirds (68%) indicated they keep prescription meds in an unlocked cabinet, closet, drawer, or other area. Most frequently, survey respondents said they store medications in the bathroom (53%) and kitchen (49%) — easily within reach in two of the most vulnerable, high-traffic areas.
At a minimum, several steps can be taken to protect prescription medications, including:
- Use a locked storage container for prescription meds at greater risk of being abused, such as pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and depressants. These medicines are prime targets for theft by anyone who enters your home, so extra precautions should be taken.
- Keep ongoing track of all medications — a Medication Inventory Sheet is available at SafeguardMyMeds [PDF here]
- Take a complete inventory of all prescription medications in your household at least twice a year, such as when you change your clocks in the spring and fall.
- Additional information is available at Safeguard My Meds on safe medication storage, including downloadable print, video, and online materials. Visitors are also encouraged to take a “Personal Responsibility Pledge” and make a commitment to always safeguard their prescription medications.
COMMENTARY: As readers of these UPDATES know, there are particular concerns regarding the safety of opioid pain relievers when it comes to misuse, abuse, overdose, and death. These strong drugs also are prime targets for thieves who seek them to sell or for personal use to get “high” — so they must be especially safeguarded.
Many of the reported problems with prescription opioids could be avoided if you follow safe practices and know how to handle opioid emergencies if they do occur. Fortunately, there is a resource you can turn to for the information and education you need.
Opioids911.org is a first-of-its-kind resource bringing all the safety essentials together in one convenient place for patients, as well as their caregivers (relatives or friends who help look after them). The Opioids911-Safety website has four sections providing an understanding of the various types of opioid pain relievers and their risks, along with specific safety-action steps for preventing opioid misuse, abuse, addiction, diversion, overmedication, and overdose. Plus, there are life-saving instructions for what to do in an opioid-emergency situation as well as links to other helpful resources.
Lastly, during this holiday period it is important to remember that sharing prescription pain relievers with a others — for example, a visiting relative or friend with an injury, toothache, or other disorder — is very unwise. For one thing, it is against the law to share these medications with someone else (even if they have their own prescription for a similar drug) and, secondly, even a single opioid pill might do them serious harm or even be life threatening.
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