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Family Physicians Remind to Guard Kids from Accidental Overdose
Kansas Ag Connection - 11/05/2018

There are few things more frightening than the tragedy that can occur when a child ingests a medication not intended for them. It's even more tragic when a child dies or is hospitalized for an emergency that could have easily been prevented. Yet it happens more often than one might think, and the problem is getting worse.

As the United States continues to wage war on the opioid epidemic, John Cullen, MD, Leawood, Kan., prescribes opioid pain killers only as a last resort. But when he does, the appointment doesn't simply end with the patient walking out the door with a prescription, Cullen said. An important conversation needs to happen before sending a patient home with opioids, especially when there are children or visitors in the home.

"Opioids serve a purpose and are often necessary for adequate pain management in some patients," said Cullen, a practicing family physician in Valdez, Alaska, and president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "However, it's important for physicians to talk with patients about potential side effects and the possibility of becoming dependent or addicted. Furthermore, if there are children or visitors in the home, the patient needs to be educated about proper storage to prevent accidental ingestion that can lead to overdose."

According to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics, the number of children age one to 17 years admitted to U.S. emergency rooms for opioid-related diagnoses nearly doubled between 2004 and 2015, with 3,647 opioid-related hospitalizations in 31 different children's hospitals. More than four out of 10 children who were admitted required care in a pediatric intensive care unit, and 1.6 percent died.

According to the study authors, it is likely that the children became ill after ingesting their parents' prescription medications. However, in other cases, overdoses are the result of teenagers stealing the drugs for recreational or self-injurious purposes. The authors conclude that efforts to reduce adult opioid use have not reduced the incidence of child opioid ingestions, and additional efforts are needed to reduce preventable opioid exposure in children.

That's why America's family physicians continue efforts to educate the public about the safe storage and disposal of prescription opioids and other medications, according to Cullen.

The AAFP recommends that all medications, especially opioids, be stored in their original packaging inside a locked cabinet, lockbox or a location where children and others cannot easily access them.

"Opioid theft by visitors to the home can also be a concern, meaning it is never a good idea to leave them out in the open," Cullen said. "The reality is, it's not always possible to spot an addict, even if they are a family member, friend, neighbor, caregiver, or a home repair person. Safety is paramount."

In addition to safe storage, safe disposal is key.

"Unused medications should not be kept on hand for future use," Cullen said. "Not only can they expire and become ineffective, it's just not worth the risk of them accidentally falling into the wrong hands."

Many communities have medicine take-back programs. Ask your family doctor for more information or visit the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Office of Diversion Control to learn more. You can also call your local waste management company to ask if there is a take-back program in your community.

Opioids--both pill and patch forms--often come with instructions for flushing unused medicine to prevent unintentional use or illegal abuse. If your community warns against flushing unused medicines down the toilet, take the following steps instead:

- Remove personal information from the prescription label and keep the medicine in its original container.

- Add water to solid pills. Also add a nontoxic and unpalatable substance, such as coffee grounds or kitty litter to the container.

- Seal the container with duct tape and place inside a second, unmarked container, then place in the trash.

For additional information on safe opioid use, storage and disposal, please visit www.familydoctor.org.

Founded in 1947, the American Academy of Family Physicians represents 131,400 physicians and medical students nationwide, and it is the only medical society devoted solely to primary care.

Family physicians conduct approximately one in five of the total medical office visits in the United States per year -- more than any other specialty. Family physicians provide comprehensive, evidence-based, and cost-effective care dedicated to improving the health of patients, families and communities. Family medicine's cornerstone is an ongoing and personal patient-physician relationship where the family physician serves as the hub of each patient's integrated care team. More Americans depend on family physicians than on any other medical specialty.

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