FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018
American Academy of Family Physicians
(800) 274-2237 Ext. 6253
LEAWOOD, Kan. — There are few things more frightening than the tragedy that can occur when a child ingests a medication not intended for them. It’s even more tragic when a child dies or is hospitalized for an emergency that could have easily been prevented. Yet it happens more often than one might think, and the problem is getting worse.
As the United States continues to wage war on the opioid epidemic, John Cullen, MD, prescribes opioid pain killers only as a last resort. But when he does, the appointment doesn’t simply end with the patient walking out the door with a prescription, Cullen said. An important conversation needs to happen before sending a patient home with opioids, especially when there are children or visitors in the home.
“Opioids serve a purpose and are often necessary for adequate pain management in some patients,” said Cullen, a practicing family physician in Valdez, Alaska, and president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “However, it’s important for physicians to talk with patients about potential side effects and the possibility of becoming dependent or addicted. Furthermore, if there are children or visitors in the home, the patient needs to be educated about proper storage to prevent accidental ingestion that can lead to overdose.”
According to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics, the number of children age one to 17 years admitted to U.S. emergency rooms for opioid-related diagnoses nearly doubled between 2004 and 2015, with 3,647 opioid-related hospitalizations in 31 different children’s hospitals. More than four out of 10 children who were admitted required care in a pediatric intensive care unit, and 1.6 percent died.
According to the study authors, it is likely that the children became ill after ingesting their parents’ prescription medications. However, in other cases, overdoses are the result of teenagers stealing the drugs for recreational or self-injurious purposes. The authors conclude that efforts to reduce adult opioid use have not reduced the incidence of child opioid ingestions, and additional efforts are needed to reduce preventable opioid exposure in children.
That’s why America’s family physicians continue efforts to educate the public about the safe storage and disposal of prescription opioids and other medications, according to Cullen.
The AAFP recommends that all medications, especially opioids, be stored in their original packaging inside a locked cabinet, lockbox or a location where children and others cannot easily access them.
“Opioid theft by visitors to the home can also be a concern, meaning it is never a good idea to leave them out in the open,” Cullen said. “The reality is, it’s not always possible to spot an addict, even if they are a family member, friend, neighbor, caregiver, or a home repair person. Safety is paramount."
In addition to safe storage, safe disposal is key.
“Unused medications should not be kept on hand for future use,” Cullen said. “Not only can they expire and become ineffective, it’s just not worth the risk of them accidentally falling into the wrong hands.”
Many communities have medicine take-back programs. Ask your family doctor for more information or visit the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Office of Diversion Control to learn more. You can also call your local waste management company to ask if there is a take-back program in your community.
Opioids—both pill and patch forms—often come with instructions for flushing unused medicine to prevent unintentional use or illegal abuse. If your community warns against flushing unused medicines down the toilet, take the following steps instead:
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Founded in 1947, the AAFP represents 136,700 physicians and medical students nationwide. It is the largest medical society devoted solely to primary care. Family physicians conduct approximately one in five office visits -- that’s 192 million visits annually or 48 percent more than the next most visited medical specialty. Today, family physicians provide more care for America’s underserved and rural populations than any other medical specialty. Family medicine’s cornerstone is an ongoing, personal patient-physician relationship focused on integrated care. To learn more about the specialty of family medicine, the AAFP's positions on issues and clinical care, and for downloadable multi-media highlighting family medicine, visit www.aafp.org/media. For information about health care, health conditions and wellness, please visit the AAFP’s award-winning consumer website, www.familydoctor.org.