Educating Surgery Patients About Proper Opioid Disposal Shown to Lower Addiction Risk

Up to 29% percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain end up misusing or abusing their prescriptions, with up to 12% of those individuals developing opioid use disorder. But a new study shows that educating surgery patients about safe, proper ways to dispose of unused painkillers can significantly lower the risk for addiction.

Reducing Rates of Opioid Misuse with Educational Brochures

Proper Opioid Disposal

Patients who received educational brochures were twice as likely to dispose of unused opioids.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri set out to determine whether providing surgery patients with educational brochures about proper opioid disposal would have a positive impact on disposal rates. The latest study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons involved 334 patients who were prescribed painkillers after having surgery for painful conditions. Half the patients were randomly selected to receive educational brochures before and after surgery, while the remaining half of patients were not provided with any educational materials.

The brochures explained the importance of properly disposing of unused painkillers, and recommended that patients either return the pills to pharmacies or police stations, or mix them with toxic inedible substances like laundry detergent before discarding them in the trash at home. Many times, patients store their leftover painkillers in medicine cabinets where they can be easily accessed by friends and family.

Overall, only 29% of patients used all the painkillers prescribed to them by their doctors. Of those who had leftover painkillers, 49% kept their pills, while 16% disposed of their painkillers. Only 9% of those who disposed of their opioids did so using the methods recommended by the brochure. In conclusion, it was found that patients who received the brochure were twice as likely to dispose of leftover opioids than those who did not receive the brochure.

Why is Having Leftover Painkillers Considered Dangerous?

Painkillers prescribed as part of surgery aftercare have been linked to higher rates of prescription drug abuse, especially since opioids are often overprescribed in most U.S. healthcare settings. For instance, patients can receive opioids from their primary care physician to treat chronic pain, then obtain another opioid prescription from their surgeon after having surgery to treat the same condition. Ending up with leftover painkillers increases the risk for dependence and addiction since the pills are no longer being used to fulfill a legitimate medical purpose.

Leftover painkillers stored in medicine cabinets are often taken and used by children and teens who want to experiment with opioids, or are willingly given away to friends and family members who want pain relief without having to visit their doctors to obtain a valid prescription. Using opioids without a valid prescription is not just illegal, but can be extremely dangerous, since some opioids like fentanyl and oxycodone are highly potent and dispensed in doses that can instantly trigger an overdose in some individuals.

Opioid misuse and abuse increases the risk for opioid dependence and addiction. Evidence shows that up to 6% of people who misuse prescription opioids eventually transition to heroin, and that 80% of heroin users initially started with prescription opioids.

How to Safely Quit Using Painkillers

Opioid dependence can be difficult to overcome on your own when you’re ready to stop using painkillers and become healthier. Opioid dependence can cause severe withdrawal symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and muscle pain that can be tough to deal with in the absence of medical care and supervision. One of the safest ways to overcome opioid dependence is to get help at a professional drug detox center.

Most drug detox centers treat opioid dependence using either a medical detox or medication-assisted treatment. Both detox methods involve the use of medications that eliminate opioid withdrawal symptoms so you can recover more comfortably with less discomfort and fewer complications. Attempting to detox from opioids at home is often highly risky, and increases the risk for complications including dehydration, suicidal ideation, relapse, and death.

If you need help fighting painkiller addiction, call our 24/7 confidential helpline immediately at 866-351-3840(Who Answers?) . We’ll discuss all your treatment options, perform a free insurance verification check, and help you find the nearest drug detox center ready to help you overcome opioid addiction.

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