In a new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, researchers discovered that almost 70 percent of opioid medication was not stored safely around children. The study, which surveyed approximately 700 adults who used opioid pain relievers, did not safely contain the drugs. The study will appear in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics.
Opioids are a type of medication mainly used to treat pain in patients. Some common forms of opioid medication include oxycodone and fentanyl. If used correctly, opioid medication can suppress pain by reducing the pain signals from reaching the brain. But with the rise of opioid addiction across the U.S., many physicians are loathed to prescribe the highly addictive medication.
Of the nearly 700 people surveyed for the study, only 31 percent of respondents reported that they safely stored the medicine away from children. In households with younger children, this number dropped to just 12 percent. In the study, the researchers said safe storage was considered as keeping the medication in an enclosed environment, preferably in a locked or latched location in homes with younger children and a locked place in homes that have older children.
Eileen McDonald, study lead author and faculty with Johns Hopkins Center for Injury and Research and Policy said that their study showed that many Americans did little to safely store the highly addictive medication. With unsafe storage practices, children can accidentally take the medication and increase the risk for addiction and overdose. Older children, especially in high school, pilfer the medication from unsuspecting adults and use them for recreational purposes.
Fatal opioid overdoses doubled in the U.S. between 1999 and 2015 among 17-year-olds and younger. Contrast this to the past five years, where statistics show that 600,000 children within the same age range were treated for various types of poisoning. After marijuana, opioids are the second most commonly used illicit drug.
McDonald and her team of researchers also found that many adults thought their storage habits for their medications were safe. Many of the adults surveyed believed that many children can overdose easier from opioids but yet only 13 percent of these people worried that their children could access their medication. The adults were significantly less likely to worry about children gaining access to medications than parents who had younger children.
The researchers wrote that with better education for parents and better or “smarter” packaging for medication may help lower the number of opioid addiction and overdose deaths due to the drug. The child-proof packaging may be helpful for younger children, but for the older ones, it is not as safe. Until better packaging is used, parents must keep opioid medication locked and away from their children.
By Cheryl Werber