Safe Storage of Opioids in the Home

| Posted On Sep 05, 2017 | By:

opioid narcoticsMy recent article on expired medications opened up a discussion of how to safely handle opioid narcotics such as morphine, hydrocodone, codeine or oxycodone in the home – a worthy topic considering the current national opioid addiction crisis!

The amount of opioids dispensed from pharmacies in the US quadrupled between 1999 and 2010, and an estimated 5.1 million Americans abuse prescription pain relievers – more than the number abusing cocaine, heroin, and LSD combined. Across the nation, opioids are over-prescribed both in quantity per prescription as well as for medical conditions that do not always require these powerfully addicting drugs. When prescribed in quantities that exceed what a patient needs or uses, it is tempting to keep the extra doses for future use. This is a dangerous proposition.

Consider what can happen to leftover opioids. In 2014, more than 10 million people in the US reported using prescription opioids for non-medical reasons. Seven out of 10 people who abuse prescription drugs get or take them from a family member or friend. Every day, on average, 2,500 teens use prescription drugs (not illegal “street” drugs) to get high for the first time. And 4 of 5 heroin users report that their first high was with a prescription opioid…in other words, a leftover.

There are several options for eliminating the problem of extra opioids. One or more of these may make the most sense to you:

Studies show that patients typically need to take opioids for only a few days after a painful injury or surgery. National guidelines recommend no more than 3-5 days’ worth of opioids (if they are needed at all), and Massachusetts law requires prescribers to document the need for more than 7 days’ worth to treat acute pain under most circumstances. By Massachusetts law, you can also direct your health care providers not to prescribe an opioid for you at all, ever (with the option to change your mind at any time).

Remember that the above applies to all types of potentially addicting medicines. In addition to opioids, watch out for proper storage and disposal of drug such as benzodiazepines (such as diazepam, lorazepam or alprazolam), gabapentin, tramadol, and “combination” medicines that contain opioids plus acetaminophen.

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About Amy Vachon, PharmD

Amy Vachon, PharmD is Director of the Atrius Health Clinical Pharmacy Program and co-chair of the Atrius Health Pharmacy & Therapeutics Committee. She joined Harvard Vanguard in 1996 and has worked to grow the Clinical Pharmacy Program which provides services to patients at many of our Atrius Health locations. Prior to working at Atrius Health, Amy was the Assistant Director for Clinical Pharmacy Services at Beth Israel Hospital, and before that, she worked in the operating room at Tufts Medical Center as a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist in Anesthesia and Operating Room Pharmacy. Amy graduated with a Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Michigan, and completed a residency in pharmacy practice at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. Amy is also passionate about creating the opportunity for work/life balance that allows every employee to be his or her best contributor to the workplace, and is the author, together with her husband, of Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents (Perigee Penguin 2011). She’s the mother of two children and an avid amateur violinist in her spare time.


  1. very helpful information

    Comment by Gertrude Reen on October 24, 2017 at 11:24 am

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