Tennessee children at risk for gaining access to opioids in the home

Published: Apr. 22, 2020 at 1:41 PM EDT
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A new poll from the Vanderbilt Center for Child Health policy found few Tennessee parents take steps to safeguard opioids at home.

Health officials said safeguarding opioids is especially important now that children are spending more time indoors due to COVID-19 social distancing recommendations.

More than 50 percent of parents who filled a prescription for an opioid in the past 5 years kept leftover medication in the home, according to poll results.

The poll asked a statewide sample of 1,100 Tennessee parents about their concerns related to children and prescription opioids. 78 percent of parents said they worry about children becoming addicted to prescription opioids, but only 32 percent expressed concern about their own children's opioid use.

According to the poll, 70 percent of parents believed opioids were prescribed too frequently in Tennessee.

Tennessee currently has the third-highest rate of opioid prescribing rate in the country. More than four prescriptions are written for every five people in the state. The poll found that over the last five years, nearly 1 in 7 Tennessee children and more than 40 percent of parents filled a prescription for an opioid.

“This is the first release of the Vanderbilt Child Health Poll, which we designed to gauge the concerns of Tennessee parents. In the coming months we continue to highlight issues important to parents,” said Stephen Patrick, MD, a neonatologist at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and director of the Center for Child Health Policy. “This release of the poll identified a blind spot for parents. Parents perceive that opioids are risky to children, but not their children. This may be one reason why we found that most parents are not taking an easy step to protect their children – properly disposing of left-over opioids in their homes.”

Few parents are taking steps to limit children from gaining access to opioids in their homes, according to the poll. Nearly 66 percent of children and 41 percent of parents who filled an opioid prescription within the last 5 years had leftover pills. A majority of parents said they kept the leftover pills in the home.

For some children and teenagers, accessing leftover opioids at home marks the beginning of their opioid addiction.

Many pharmacies have boxes where parents can return unused opioids without any questions being asked. Parents can visit https://takebackday.dea.gov/ to find a location near their home. If parents cannot find an opioid disposal site in their community or are staying at home due to COVID-10, extra opioids can be flushed down the toilet. However, parents should not dispose of opioids in the trash and should never give them to family members or friends.

“Parents have not gotten the message that left-over opioids in their homes are dangerous. Providers and pharmacists need to remember to give clear instructions to patients on how to dispose of opioids, and policymakers need to enhance efforts to promote and enable safe disposal of opioids in communities statewide,” Patrick said.

Copyright 2020 WVLT. All rights reserved.