Opioids are stored unsafely in most homes with children

Information about safety shouldn’t get lost in the buzz about opioids

It seems not a day goes by without a headline about the opioid crisis, yet for all the media blitz, many parents may be missing a crucial point about having opioids in the house: a study in the March issue of Pediatrics suggests opioids are stored unsafely in most households with children.

In the study, 681 adults who had taken opioids in the previous 12 months and had children aged 17 years or younger completed a survey designed to measure their beliefs about and practices on opioid storage. The researchers defined safe storage as “locked or latched” for children aged 6 years or younger and “locked” for children aged 7 to 17 years. Only 32.6% of survey respondents with young children, 29% with children in both age groups, and 11.7% with older children reported safe storage. Yet 72.6% of study participants agreed with the statement “Children can overdose on opioid pain relievers [OPRs] more easily than adults,” and 75.3% agreed with the statement “Children who take an adult’s OPR can suffer serious health consequences.” Furthermore, knowledge of a child’s death was unrelated to storage practices.

Information about safety is getting lost in the buzz about opioids, said the study’s lead author, Eileen M. McDonald, MS, associate scientist at Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. “We need to get through the clutter in all the messages and media to help parents understand that children having access to these drugs is dangerous.”

McDonald acknowledged that opioid education is a tough balancing act. “We try not to get into fearmongering because if you cry wolf too many times, no one is going to believe you. But opioids are devastating for a young child to get into and can cause death. In older kids, if it’s not immediately fatal, it can lead to long-term misuse and possible addiction.”

Jeffrey A. Gray, PharmD, CDE, associate professor in the department of pharmacy practice at Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, noted that patients’ perceptions may play a role. “People have the idea that if a medication comes from the health system and health professionals, then the medication is safe in all circumstances.”

Pharmacists and other health providers should build on their relationships with their patients, Gray added. “The relationship allows health care providers to better estimate risks for the patient and family. When pharmacists counsel patients on opioids, they should take the time to explain not only the adverse events and what can be expected of the medication, but the risk once the patient takes it home.”

McDonald suggested that a certain amount of mandatory education might help. “When I see a pharmacist, I can opt out of getting education on my prescription before signing my name. I’m wondering if you shouldn’t be able to opt out of education if the prescription is for an opioid, at least for opioid-naive patients.”

For the full article, please visit www.pharmacytoday.org for the May 2017 issue of Pharmacy Today.