Once a child is prescribed pain medication, leftover pills are kept by almost half of parents, according to the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.
Around one-third of parents who were involved in the poll reported that their children had at least once been prescribed pain medication due to illness, surgery, or injury. Of the prescriptions, 60% were for opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone per the results of the poll.
Fifty percent of mothers and fathers said that there were leftovers from the prescription medications.
Dr. Matthew Davis, a professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at the University of Michigan and the director of the poll, said in a statement:
"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,"
The scientists found that 47% of participating parents kept the pills that were left at their homes. Thirty percent discarded the pills in the trash or toilet, 8% returned the extra pills to their doctor or pharmacy, 6% used the medication for others in the family, and 9% said they could not remember what they did with the surplus pills.
The best way to dispose of unused medication is to return the prescription to the doctor or pharmacy, or to discard them in the trash, says Sara G. Miller, reporting for LiveScience.
Pollsters also found that parents who had health care providers who explained how to dispose of unused medications were more likely to throw medicine out correctly. But only one-third of subjects reported that they had received these instructions.
"This is a missed opportunity to prevent prescription drug misuse among children," Davis said. Indeed, "for adolescents, a known point of access to narcotic pain medication is leftover pills from a prior prescription," he said. The poll suggests that doctors need to do a better job of explaining this risk to parents, he added.
Roughly 2,000 parents were part of the national survey, and all respondents had at least a single child between the ages of five and 17. The research was published on May 16th.
The results of keeping unused medications in the home are numerous and often include unintended outcomes. This fact is distinctly real when adolescents can access the prescription drugs. Parents who do not know the disposal options are generating a dangerous situation for their kids without realizing it.
Previous research has found that adolescents are more apt to use prescription drugs for non-medical purposes. They obtain these drugs from family members or friends and not from dealers, strangers, or from the internet. Most adolescents also have open access to any medications in their homes, writes C.J. Arlotta for Forbes.
Of parents who had received an explanation of what to do with leftover medications, 26% still had extra medications in their homes. In homes where physicians did not advise parents of ways to discard unused medication, 56% of parents kept the medicine in their homes.
Randy Dotinga, writing for WebMD, reports that Sarah Clark, the co-director of the poll, said that the team's poll alerted researchers to the fact that a better way to instruct parents about the risks of leftover medications must be a priority.