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Combatting the dangers of unused opioids

Want to help protect your family and community from the opioid crisis? Get rid of any unused prescription opioids that may be in cabinets, drawers or anywhere else you store medicine.

What are opioids?

Prescription opioids are powerful, pain-reducing medicines found in pill forms, syrups or even prescription patches. Commonly prescribed opioids include hydrocodone, morphine and oxycodone.

But they also can cause overdose deaths. Every day, more than 100 Americans die from opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why leftover opioids are dangerous

The U.S. is battling an opioid crisis. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that up to 71 percent of opioid tablets prescribed after surgery went unused. Trouble with opioids can start at home, where unused medicines are stored in cabinets or drawers and ingested either intentionally or unintentionally by people who do not have a medical need for these prescriptions.

“We’re facing a public health tragedy right in our own backyards; opioid addiction and overdose affect communities across America,” explained U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb. “We know that people fighting addiction often began by accessing prescription opioids from a friend or family member. It’s critical we all do our part in safely disposing of these medicines once they’re no longer needed as part of our effort to end this crisis.”

Protect your family and your community

Make sure your medicines do not get into the wrong hands. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, half of people who misused prescription opioids got them from a friend or family member.

Unused opioids can also pose a risk to kids. Even child-resistant containers cannot completely prevent a child from taking medicines prescribed to someone else. Emergency departments see thousands of patients for opioid overdose and addiction each year, according to the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample.

As more opioids are being prescribed to adults, the risk of accidental and intentional exposure increases for children and adolescents. Grandparents, neighbors and others who take care of children should make sure they have disposed of any unused medicines. Opioids also can be harmful to pets.

“In the last two decades, the FDA has received reports of accidental exposure to powerful prescription pain medicines such as fentanyl patches - most of them in children under 2 years old,” said FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Director Dr. Janet Woodcock. “Disposing of expired or unused medicines is an important step in keeping families safe.”

Disposing of unused medicines can help turn the tide on the devastating opioid crisis affecting so many American families. Proper disposal of unused prescription opioids saves lives. Learn more at

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