When children are prescribed opioid painkillers, such as Oxycontin or Percocet, for surgery or illness, about half of parents say they keep the leftover medicine on hand.
“We found that the amount of pain medication prescribed for children is frequently greater than the amount used, and too few parents recall clear direction from their provider about what to do with leftover medication,” said Sarah Clark, co-director of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.
“This is a missed opportunity to prevent prescription drug misuse among children,” Clark added in a statement from the University of Michigan Health System. “Many parents simply keep extra pain pills in their home. Those leftover pills represent easy access to narcotics for teens and their friends.”
According to the poll results, about a third of parents said their kids had received pain medication prescriptions, mostly for narcotic drugs such as oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet) or hydrocodone.
Only 8 percent of parents reported returning the leftover medication to a pharmacy or doctor; 30 percent disposed of the medication in the trash or toilet. Six percent said other family members used the medication, and 9 percent couldn’t recall where the medications went.
Only one-third of parents said their child’s doctor had discussed what to do with leftover medicine. When providers talked to parents about what to do with any excess drugs, only 26 percent still had leftover pills in the home. But, in homes where doctors didn’t give guidance on what to do with the excess pills, 56 percent of parents kept the extra pills at home, the survey found.
“The epidemic of prescription drug abuse affects all sectors of the U.S. population, including children and teens,” Clark said. “For adolescents, a known point of access to narcotic pain medication is leftover pills from a prior prescription. Our poll suggests we need to do a much better job of explaining this risk to parents.”
The survey results are based on a poll of nearly 1,200 parents with at least one child aged 5 to 17.
For more about proper care of opioid painkillers, try the American Academy of Family Physicians.