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Worried About Kids Accessing Your Pain Meds? You Should Be!

More than 650,000 opioid prescriptions are dispensed every day in the US.

With so many people on pain meds, there’s a good chance you might have some of these pills sitting in your medicine cabinet. And if you also have children under your roof, the big question is are your opioids safely stored where your kids can’t access them?

The Shocking Numbers

A recent study discovered some pretty abysmal stats. Researchers found that nearly 70 percent of prescription opioid medications kept in homes with children aren’t stored safely. Their survey of parents also discovered that just 13 percent worry about their children accessing their opioids, and parents of older children were even less concerned.

“But I keep them on a high shelf in a child-proof bottle!”

That’s not good enough, according to research. “Safe storage” is defined as “keeping the medication in a locked or latched place for homes with younger children and a locked place for homes with older children.”

Why so picky? Well, kids are naturally curious. Between 2012 and 2017, more than 600,000 children age 17 and younger were treated in emergency departments for poisoning. From 1999 to 2015, overdose fatalities nearly doubled in this age group.
While your 12-month old may not be able to reach your medicine cabinet, your three-year-old can. And, childproof caps will not stop your teen.

Teens as Well as Toddlers

Too often, parents only worry about keeping medications away from small children, who put anything and everything in their mouths. This isn’t enough. The study found that safe storage of drugs was especially low in homes with older children and teens. It’s dangerous to assume these older kids are not in danger.

In fact, experimental teens often need more protection from these drugs than toddlers. Nearly 25 percent of teens in America report they have misused or abused a prescription drug. The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that opioids are the second most common illicit drug used by 12- to 17-year-olds, after marijuana. Easy access to prescriptions in the home could pose a temptation for teens – and their friends.

Study lead author Eileen McDonald, MS, faculty with the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy states, “We know that teens who use these drugs recreationally frequently get them from homes where they are easily accessible, increasing their risk for addiction and overdose.”

To truly keep children of all ages safe, parents have to do more than just keep these drugs out of sight. They must be inaccessible.

How Can We Keep Them Safe?

Researchers suggest two important steps to keep these potent painkillers out of children’s hands:

  • Educate families about the importance of storing pills safely.
  • Develop new technology to prevent older children’s access (smart packaging).

“We need new packaging, such as tamper-resistant, personalized pill dispensers, to make it easier for parents to keep these potentially dangerous medications inaccessible to older children,” notes Andrea Gielen, ScD, ScM, study senior author and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, “In the meantime, parents should keep their medications locked away and dispose of any leftover pills promptly and safely.”

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