Patients are too often prescribed extra painkillers and many share them with others

Patients are too often prescribed extra painkillers and many share them with others

It’s okay to share your Tylenol or Advil with a friend or family member, but it’s definitely not okay to share your Vicodin, Percocet or OxyContin or other extra painkillers.

Tylenols are OTC – over-the-counter drugs – and they’re approved for everyone. But opioids like OxyContin are doctor-prescribed-only drugs. People can get hooked on opioids, and even die from an overdose. Passing them around can be dangerous. Yes, this is an “everybody knows” kind of message. But apparently everyone hasn’t gotten the message. A new study from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, says that on average, more than half of all people prescribed opioid painkillers have some left over after they stop taking them.

So do they return the pills to the pharmacy? Unfortunately, only 7 percent of patients return leftover opioids to the pharmacy or the doctor. Many of the rest, over 60 percent, hang onto those leftover pills for “future use.” And in spite of the years of advice in the media, a large percentage of them – over 20 percent – admit that they share them with friends, family members and co-workers. “They have shared an opioid medication with another person, primarily to help that other person manage pain,” said study author Dr. Alene Kennedy-Hendricks, at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

Senior study author Dr. Colleen L. Barry, director of the Bloomberg School’s Center for Mental Health and Addiction Policy Research, said it’s a real problem. “The fact that people are sharing their leftover prescription painkillers at such high rates is a big concern,” Dr. Barry said. “It’s fine to give a friend a Tylenol if they’re having pain but it’s not fine to give your OxyContin to someone without a prescription.”

It’s long been said by addiction specialists and law enforcement that a large number of opioid addictions and dependencies begin, or are fed by, stealing opioids out of medicine cabinets and off counters from relatives, friends and acquaintances. Fewer than half of patients received any information on how to properly store or dispose of their medication. Only one-third said they got those instructions from their doctor or nurse, and three-quarters said they were instructed about storage by the drug packaging or by the pharmacist. And while 20 percent of them kept their pills in a somewhat secure location such as a latched cupboard, fewer than one in 10 said they kept their opioids under lock and key.

“We need to make it easier and more convenient for people to dispose of their leftover opioid medication,” Dr. Kennedy-Hendricks said. “There have been efforts in recent years to expand drop-off sites and approved collectors, but perhaps it has not been enough. We need to do a better job so that we can reduce the risks not only to patients but to their family members.”

This study was done last year, before more recent guidelines were released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urging doctors to curb the use of opioid painkillers except for the most extreme cases such as cancer. So the message is clear. Don’t keep leftover opioid painkillers – or any prescription drugs – where others can get at them. Don’t share opioids with others – tell them to see a doctor. And finally, if you or someone you care for already has a drug problem, call Novus and talk about it. We’re always here to help, and we help people get their lives back.

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