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Kits increase likelihood of safe disposal for unused opioid pills, study finds

Kits increase likelihood of safe disposal for unused opioid pills, study finds
Providing patients with pill disposal kits increases the likelihood that they will safely get rid of unused medication, a new study indicates. Photo by jorono/Pixabay

May 6 (UPI) -- People prescribed opioid pain relievers are more likely to safely dispose of unused doses of the potentially addictive medications if they are given a kit to make it easy for them to do, a study published Friday found.

Of those given a medication disposal kit -- a specially designed vial into which unused doses are placed and mixed with a chemical to make them unusable -- 60% indicated they disposed of unused opioid pills, data published Friday by JAMA Network Open showed.

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Conversely, just over 40% of participants who were reminded to dispose of their unused medication by text, but not given a kit, reported that they did, researchers said.

The kits enable those prescribed opioid pain medications to safely dispose of them in the trash, without having to worry about them being misused or abused by others, according to the researchers.

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"I think the message here is to make disposing of unused prescriptions the norm and the expectation to protect the patient, their loved ones at home and the community," Dr. Anish K. Agarwal, a co-author of the study, told UPI by email.

"These sorts of solutions are important for health systems and prescribers to start thinking about [and] some pharmacies provide them," said Agarwal, chief wellness officer at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia.

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Disposal of unused opioid medications has become a concern due to the ongoing "epidemic" of addiction in the United States.

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Research indicates that doses that are not properly disposed of often fall into the hands of those who might abuse the drugs and become addicted to them, including children and teens.

For this study, Agarwal and his colleagues compared medication disposal rates among nearly 250 patients prescribed opioids following orthopedic or urologic surgery at Penn Medicine, the health system affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania.

About half of the participants were mailed disposal kits that rendered unused doses unusable, allowing them to be thrown in the trash, while the others received text messages with links to local pill disposal locations, the researchers said.

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Based on responses to a survey, participants who received the kits were nearly twice as likely to safely dispose of their unused medication, the data showed.

"We need novel strategies to make proper disposal easy, simple, and top of mind for patients," Agarwal said.

"This work begins to show a new way of mailing these kits to patients to achieve that idea," he said.

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