How do emergency department patients store and dispose of opioids after discharge? A pilot study.
Opioid abuse and overdose have increased drastically in recent years. Diversion of opioids used to treat pain, either through theft or sharing, is increasing and may contribute to this misuse. Based on these trends, we designed a study to investigate opioid storage and disposal practices of patients who were prescribed these agents in the emergency department.
A prospective cohort pilot study was conducted. All adults (aged ≥18 years) with a chief complaint of either minor musculoskeletal trauma, renal colic, or acute back pain who were discharged home with an opioid prescription were eligible for inclusion; persons with chronic pain were excluded. Patients were asked to participate in two home interviews in which the research assistant viewed the storage location of the opioid prescription. Safe storage was defined as being stored in a locked container or cabinet. Safe disposal was defined as returning the drugs to a designated location or mixing unused pills with an undesirable substance, placing in a sealable container, and then in the trash. Patients self-reported disposal methods. Feasibility of study methods evaluated the ability to conduct home interviews after the ED visit. Descriptive statistics were used to analyze the data.
Twenty-five subjects consented to participate; 20 patients completed both home interviews. None of the medications were safely stored. Only 1 patient disposed of the medication, yet did so improperly.
This pilot study revealed widespread improper storage and disposal of opioids. The study has major implications for education for ED physicians, nurses, and residents.
Tanabe, P; Paice, JA; Stancati, J; Fleming, M
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