FDA’s Remove the Risk campaign encourages Americans to dispose of unused prescription opioids safely

The United States (US) is experiencing a devastating opioid crisis despite national efforts to curb the problem. More than 100 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, and millions are addicted to opioids. Opioids are powerful pain medicines. You can find opioids in the home in pill forms, syrups, or prescription patches. Commonly prescribed opioids include hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone, methadone, tramadol, and fentanyl.

The trouble with opioids often starts at home with unused prescribed medicines in your cabinets or drawers. Did you have surgery 2 years ago? A broken bone last year? A dental procedure last month? A loved one who requires pain medicine around-the-clock at the end of life? Whatever the reason for taking prescription opioids, keeping them around after they are no longer needed is dangerous. But all too often, these medicines remain in the home for various reasons:

  • They are simply “put away” after an illness or injury.
  • They are kept in case they are needed in the future.
  • Family members don’t know what to do with leftover opioids.

The danger is, your opioid medicines could get into the wrong hands, especially if pets, children, or teens live with or visit you. Children or pets can accidentally take unused opioids, as not all opioids come in child-resistant packaging, including fentanyl patches. Teens or visitors might search for opioids in your drawers, medicine cabinets, or purses. In fact, half of the people who misuse prescription opioids get them from a friend or family member, according to results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. And the rate of fatal opioid poisonings among children and teens has increased almost threefold in the past 18 years. Most of these deaths were among teens between 15 and 19 years of age (88%) and children younger than 5 years old (7%). The opioid crisis should be viewed as a family problem, where everyone is likely affected and exposed when these medicines are brought into the home.

Here’s what you can do: You can be part of the solution to the opioid crisis affecting so many American families by simply removing unused opioids from your home. To help, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just launched Remove the Risk (www.ismp.org/ext/255), an education and outreach campaign to raise awareness about the serious risks of keeping unused prescription opioids in the home and to provide information about safe disposal of these medicines. Check your medicine cabinets or drawers regularly for unused opioid pills, syrups, and patches, and visit www.ismp.org/ext/256 or www.ismp.org/ext/257 (Spanish) to learn about the best safe-disposal option for any unused medicines. You also can follow updates from the campaign and join the conversation on social media using #RemoveOpioidRisk.