Home E-Weekly January 16, 2018

What Are Your Patients Doing With Their Unused Pain Pills?

Published: January 15, 2018

OUT OF CIRCULATION Providing easy-to-read brochures encourages patients to properly dispose of unused medications.

Patients are twice as likely to properly dispose of their unneeded pain medications when given an informational brochure at discharge, a study published on the Journal of American College Surgeons website.

The opioid epidemic has been linked to over-prescription of painkillers after surgery combined with a lack of information on how to properly dispose of the unused medications. While it's difficult to determine the appropriate number of post-op pain meds patients need, it's relatively inexpensive to provide patients with specific instructions on how to dispose of their medications — and prevent diversion, say researchers.

A team of surgeons, nurses and administrators at the Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis created a brochure for new patients that briefly describes the opioid epidemic and how it is fueled by improper disposal of medications. The brochure then provides links to websites that list drug take-back locations as well as step-by-step instructions on how to properly dispose of medications based on guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration and published medical reports. The self-disposal instructions recommend combining the unused medications with household items such as kitty litter or liquid dish detergent to discourage inappropriate use.

The researchers gave the brochure to 170 patients who had surgery performed at the upper extremity/peripheral nerve clinic between February and September 2017. The patients were enrolled in a survey along with 164 patients that did not receive the brochure. The survey showed 22% of patients that received the brochure disposed of their medications compared to 11% of patients that did not receive a brochure.

These findings suggest that by providing patients with the information to dispose of their medications, surgical facilities can play an active role in keeping opioids out of the community, say researchers.

JoEllen McBride

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