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Promote safe storage and disposal of opioids and all medications.

The American Medical Association Task Force to Reduce Opioid Abuse strongly supports the education and awareness of physicians, patients, policymakers, and other key stakeholders regarding the risks of prescription opioids and other medications if they are not taken as prescribed — as well as steps needed to ensure safe storage and disposal of expired, unwanted or unused medications. The Task Force urges all physicians and other health care professionals to take three steps that can help:


Talk to your patients! More than 70 percent of people misusing opioid analgesics are getting them from family and friends — sharing opioids is illegal and may be deadly.


Remind your patients! Store medicines out of reach from children and never share prescription(s) with anyone.


Urge your patients to safely dispose of expired, unwanted and unused medications! Recommend patients use pharmacy and law enforcement “take back” resources whenever possible.

First, physicians and other health care professionals need to talk to their patients and educate them about safe use of prescription opioids — more than 70 percent of people using opioid analgesics for nonmedical reasons get them from family or friends.1 Opioid analgesics should only be taken as directed since misuse or diversion of these products can be illegal, extremely harmful and even deadly.

Second, remind patients that medications should be stored out of reach of children, and in a safe place — preferably locked — to prevent other family members and visitors2 from taking them. The CDC recommends that prescribers “discuss risks to household members and other individuals if opioids are intentionally or unintentionally shared with others for whom they are not prescribed, including the possibility that others might experience overdose at the same or at lower dosage than prescribed for the patient.”

Third, talk to your patients about the most appropriate way to dispose of expired, unwanted and unused medications. The preferred option is that unwanted or unused pills, liquids or other medications should be disposed of in a local “take back” or mail back program or medication drop box at a police station, DEA-authorized collection site or pharmacy, if the pharmacy has a secure drop-box program. Additional take back and disposal options and resources are below.

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Take back and disposal resources for physicians and patients

  1. ONDCP findings from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s NSDUH averaged for 2009 and 2010 show that 55 percent of persons who used pain relievers non-medically obtained the pain relievers from a friend or relative for free, another 11 percent bought them from a friend or relative, and 5 percent got them from a friend or relative without asking. Learn More
  2. The Safe Homes Coalition’s Keep Kids Safe Program is an example of a program that provides plastic bags to real estate professionals such as Realtors® so their clients can secure prescription medications while their home is being shown to potential buyers. Learn More

The AMA Task Force to Reduce Opioid Abuse


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