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Opioid medications not being safely stored in homes with children, new study finds

Posted at 6:38 PM, Feb 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-20 18:38:49-05

Most people know to keep their prescription medications out of reach of kids, but a new study suggests people keep them under lock and key.

The study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that nearly 70 percent of prescription opioid medications were not stored safely in homes with children.

Eileen McDonald is the lead author of the study. She and a team of researchers surveyed almost 700 adults who recently had an opioid prescription and had children in their home. They asked all of them how they stored their medicine.

“Not surprisingly, we found that only about a third of households are storing opioids safely,” McDonald said.

And for parents of older children, just 12 percent reported safe storage.

Researchers define “safely” as medication being stored in a place with a lock or latch for kids under 6 and in a place with a lock only for older children age 7 to 17.

“From other researcher's work and the literature, we know that in the last five years, opioid-related emergency department visits and hospitalizations for children from under the age of 1 to up to 19 have more than doubled,” said McDonald.

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While there are a number of drivers behind the heroin epidemic, McDonald said something as easily as storing medicine properly could perhaps save someone from becoming an addict.

“Current heroin users, up to 70 percent of them say they first got started by using a friend or family member's opioid prescription medication,” said McDonald.

Her message to parents is while you may trust your kids and others from intentionally taking your pills, why leave it to chance?

“Every parent wants to believe that their child is going to choose the healthy choice, the smart behavior every time, but it's really risky when a naive drug user can use a medication once and have a lethal experience. I just don't think it's worth the risk,” she said.

The findings were also published in the March edition of the journal Pediatrics

Hopkins Bloomberg researchers are also working on developing a new way to store medications that involves fingerprint technology.         

McDonald added that people who have been given an opioid prescription tended to keep the medication even after their medical issue was resolved. The best way to remove medication from a home is to bring it to a pharmacy or police station with a drug take back program Each Baltimore City police precinct has a drug take back box at their location. 

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