Most Doctors Don't Tell Parents What to Do with a Child's Leftover Opioids

After a child recovers from surgery or illness, their leftover prescription pain medications should be properly disposed of – the keyword being “should.â€

After a child recovers from surgery or illness, their leftover prescription pain medications should be properly disposed of — the keyword being “should.” However, a poll from the University of Michigan revealed that this only happens about half of the time.

“This is a missed opportunity to prevent prescription drug misuse among children. Many parents simply keep extra pain pills in their home. Those leftover pills represent easy access to narcotics from teens and their friends,” Sarah J. Clark, MPH, co-director of the poll and associate research scientist at the university, said in a news release.

The University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health was conducted in January 2016 and included data from 1,176 parents of children ages 5 to 17.

  • Related: Reducing Pain Pill Overdoses May Be Just a Conversation Away

Half of the parents reported that there was leftover medication from their child’s surgery, illness, or injury. A total of 29% of the parents said that they had at least one pain medication for their child — 60% of which were a narcotic such as oxycodone or hydrocodone. But what did they do with medication?

  • 47% — Kept it at home
  • 30% — Tossed it in the trash or toilet
  • 9% — Don’t recall
  • 8% — Returned it to the doctor or pharmacy
  • 6% — Used it for other family members

Needless to say, an underwhelming amount of parents actually did what the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) advises in this situation — destroy or return them. But there is a way to combat this trend. The poll showed that parents were much more likely to properly dispose of the drugs when the healthcare provider discussed what to do with them.

“We found that the amount of pain medication prescribed for children is frequently greater than the amount used, and too few parents recall clear direction from their provider about what to do with leftover medication,” Clark continued.

While 84% of parents said that the prescription provider spoke about how often to take the medication, 64% explained when to cut down on it, and 61% addressed side effects, only 33% said that they were told what to do with any extra pain medication.

The unnecessary, readily available narcotic pain medication is in a growing amount of medicine cabinets in the US. The study results present a major implication for healthcare providers — tell your patients the proper way to get rid of leftover drugs. Taking a little time to explain the risks can decrease potentially dangerous and addictive outcomes.

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