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Disposal Kits Aid With Leftover Opioids After Surgery

Could giving surgery patients ready-to-use mailed disposal kits for unused opioids lower the risk of abuse of the drugs?

Yes, claims a new study that found patients with unused opioid pain pills are much more likely to dispose of them properly when given the kits.

There’s a risk that leftover opioid medications may be misused by the person they were prescribed to or by others. If they’re put in the trash, they could be found by children or animals, or may harm the environment. Flushing them down the toilet also poses environmental risks, the researchers explained.

There are safe disposal sites, such as certain pharmacies, but patients often don’t use them because they may be out of the way or it takes extra effort.

In this study, University of Pennsylvania researchers assessed whether mailed safe disposal kits might make a difference.

The study included 235 patients who were prescribed opioid painkillers after orthopedic or urologic procedures. The usual procedure was followed for about half of the patients, who were texted instructions to dispose of their unused pills along with a link to locations of local safe disposal sites.

The other patients received the same text message but were mailed disposal kits four to seven days after their procedures.

Leftover opioids were disposed of properly by 60% of those who received the disposal kit, compared with 43% of the patients who didn’t receive the kits, the investigators found.

Some studies show that only about 20% to 30% of U.S. patients properly dispose of unused opioid medications, so these findings suggest that mailed disposal kits could double or triple that rate, according to the authors of the study published online May 6 in JAMA Network Open.

The researchers noted that the use of mailed disposal kits by 125 patients in the study resulted in the safe disposal of 480 unused opioid pills.

“I was pleased to see that such a simple, ‘snail mail’ approach could change behavior and promote self-reported disposal,” said study lead author Dr. Anish Agarwal, an assistant professor of emergency medicine and chief wellness officer of the department of emergency medicine at Penn Medicine.

“The opioid epidemic clearly continues to be front and center for patients, and the concerns with opioid use and misuse are becoming a real part of the conversation between physicians and patients,” Agarwal added in a university news release. “I think patients are more aware of the risks and consequences of using opioids and storing them in their homes.”


More information

For more on the safe disposal of drugs, go to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

SOURCE: University of Pennsylvania, news release, May 6, 2022

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