A guide to understanding opioid safety and disposal

Educating individuals about the importance of opioid safety and disposal can prevent opioid misuse and abuse — and with this month being National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, it is the perfect opportunity to learn how to keep you and your loved ones safe.

Opioids are a type of pain-relieving medicine that doctors prescribe to treat pain that cannot be adequately managed with over-the-counter medications. When used as directed by your doctor, opioids can safely manage pain and are often used to treat pain after surgery.

However, there are potential risks when opioids are misused — or not taken as prescribed. Opioids are strong medications that can be misused in a variety of ways.

The following are possible signs of opioid misuse:

• Taking more medicine than your doctor has prescribed.

• Taking the medicine for a longer period of time than your doctor advised.

• Taking someone else's prescription medicine or sharing your opioids with someone else.

Opioid side effects include drowsiness or excessive sleepiness, as well as slow or shallow breathing.

If you see any of these symptoms, you should call 911 right away.

How do I take opioids safely?

• Always take opioids as prescribed by following the suggested dose and directions on the label.

• Only give the specific opioid medicine prescribed for your child. Never take opioids prescribed to someone else or give your child's opioid medicine to someone else.

• Children should never take opioids alone; they should always be accompanied by an adult. In fact, it is preferable if no one, regardless of age, takes opioids alone.

What should I do with unused medicine?

After the pain has been treated, there may be unused or leftover medication. This unused medicine should not be stored for future use and should be disposed of as soon as possible using one of the following methods:

Drug take back program

Local police departments or medical facilities may host “take back” events. These are great events where you can bring leftover medicines to be disposed of properly.

The DEA's next National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23. To find a collection site near you, visit

Ask your local pharmacist what medication disposal programs they have, including medication drop off kiosks or mail-back programs.

Dispose of medicine at home

If a drug take back program is not available, you can throw away your unused medicine at home in one of the following ways:

• Use a drug deactivating bag or powder, which when mixed with your medicine, destroys it so no one else can misuse it.

• Alternatively, you can mix any remaining medicine with something that would be unpleasant to eat, such as dirt, coffee grounds or cat litter. Place the mixture in a sealed plastic bag or container and dispose of it in your trash at home.

• If you have small children or pets and none of the above-mentioned disposal options are accessible, flush the medicine down the toilet as soon as possible (only those on the FDA flush list).

Lurie Children's Opioid Stewardship Committee provides thought leadership and processes to foster appropriate opioid use, reduce opioid use disorder and decrease problems associated with opioid use, while remaining true to ChildKind International principles for pain management.

• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. For more information, visit

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