March 20, 2017
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Majority of opioids insecurely stored in households with children

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Despite the ongoing “opioid epidemic” in the United States, a recent survey found that opioid pain relievers were stored unsafely in households with children and adolescents.

“In 2014, more than 10 million people reported using opioid pain relievers nonmedically. Problematic opioid pain reliever use has been linked to heroin use and to the rapid increase in drug poisoning deaths in this country,” Eileen M. McDonald, MS, from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and colleagues wrote. “Children and adolescents are at risk for unintentional and intentional exposure as a result of opioid pain relievers’ pervasive presence in U.S. households.”

To understand the current beliefs concerning safe storage of opioid pain relievers, the researchers compared the practices of adults who have used this type of prescription in the past year with those living with children. The study included those with children under 7 years old and those with children between the ages of 7 and 17.

Beliefs on safe storage were collected through a survey of a sample of adults (n=681) that represent the nation as a whole and measured using Health Belief Model-derived items. Researchers defined “safe storage” differently for the two age groups. For younger children, safe storage of opioids was achieved when the prescriptions were either locked or latched. Older children required opioids to be locked to achieve a safe storage status in the household. Researchers then used regression models to observe the connection between beliefs and safe storage practices.

According to survey results, safe storage was reported by 32.6% of those with young children in the household. Families with older children reported safe storage practices at 11.7%, and households with children in both age groups reported safe storage at 29.0%. Those with children in both age groups were also asked to answer survey questions while thinking only about their oldest child. When this line of thinking was used, the chances of participants reporting safe storage practices decreased by half as perceived barriers increased. Reporting safe storage increased as the adult’s worry increased, and the chances increased twofold as efficacy increased.

Pediatric care providers are uniquely positioned to use these findings to guide anticipatory guidance and patient education. General pediatric poison prevention anticipatory guidance is well established and includes recommending that medicines and other household poisons be locked up,” McDonald and colleagues wrote. “The high proportion of ‘neutral’ responses to many of the Health Belief Model items we observed suggests that a large number or parents have not yet formed opinions about opioid pain relievers and the need for safe storage.” Katherine Bortz

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.