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Opioids: Safe Use, Storage and Disposal

What are Opioids?

Opioids are strong medicines prescribed for moderate to severe pain.  Most of the time, opioids are prescribed to be used with over the counter pain medicines (such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen). This provides better pain control.  There are many different opioids used to treat pain. Some examples include:

  • Tramadol
  • Hydromorphone
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Methadone
  • Hydrocodone

As your child’s pain gets better, slowly decrease the use of opioids and use only over the counter pain medicine.  

How do I Safely Use Opioids?

Opioids can be an important part of treatment.  Some of the side effects are:

  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Slow reaction time
  • Impaired judgement
  • Possibility of becoming physically dependent

Physical dependence means your body relies on the medicine. Quickly stopping it could cause your child to experience withdrawal symptoms.  Physical dependence usually only happens if your child has been taking the opioid every day for 7 days or more. 

Physical dependence is not the same as addiction.  Addiction is a condition that affects your brain and behavior.  Addiction happens when you no longer have control over your choice to use the medicine.   If you misuse the medicine, the brain will eventually develop a powerful urge to continue to use it.

Your provider will tell you how to safely decrease an opioid medicine to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Tips for Safe Use of Opioids  

  1. Read the instructions that you receive from the pharmacy  
  2. Never give an opioid to a child unless it is prescribed for the child. Never share opioids with another person.
  3. Take opioids as prescribed. If your child’s pain is not controlled or they are experiencing side effects, talk to your provider about what to do.  Do not increase the dose unless you have been instructed to do so. 
  4. Do not drive while on opioids.
  5. Tell your provider what other medicines your child is taking to avoid more side effects.
  6. Do not chew, crush or dissolve opioid tablets unless your child’s provider tells you to do so.
  7. Misuse of opioids can lead to overdose poisoning. Be prepared for emergencies. 
  8. Dial 911 if:
    • your child cannot be aroused or awakened
    • is breathing very slowly
    • stops breathing

How do I Safely Store Opioids?

Accidental overdose, not using opioids as prescribed and using too many opioids is a public safety concern.  Store all opioids in their original packaging inside a locked cabinet or in a location where others, especially children, cannot easily access them. 

An adult should be in control of these medicines and carefully keep track of their use.  Teenagers and adults seeking these medicines for inappropriate use most commonly get them from medicine cabinets in their own home or the home of a friend or relative.

How do I Dispose Opioids?

Disposing (getting rid of) of unneeded or expired opioids is important because of the high risk of abuse.  There are many options for safely disposing opioids without hurting the environment, including:

  1. Access information for your local disposal site by searching “DEA Controlled Substance Public Disposal Locations - Search Utility” in your internet browser OR follow this link. You will be asked to enter your State and Zip Code or City.
  2. Purchase a “Mail Back” envelope from your local pharmacy to mail your unused prescription medications for safe disposal.
  3. Purchase a Deactivator kit available for sale at Children’s Hospital of Minnesota outpatient pharmacy in Minneapolis or St. Paul campus.

*The above selections are the safest for disposal of medicines. However if these are not an option, it is recommended that you dispose of opioid medicines by flushing them down the toilet.

Do NOT throw opioid medicines away in a garbage can.

*The Food and Drug Administration recognized the environmental impact of flushing dangerous medicines in the toilet. They believe that the known risk of harm from accidental exposure to opioids, including death from misuse, far outweighs the potential risk to humans or the environment from flushing these medications when an alternative disposal option is not available.

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This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Family Resource Center library, or visit www.childrensmn.org/educationmaterials.

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