Safe Storage and Disposal Practices

Proper safe storage and disposal information is essential for patients who are prescribed opioids for the first time or for those who are taking them long-term. Failure to properly store and dispose of opioid medications can be dangerous for other members of the household, especially children, adolescents, and teenagers.

FACT: Over 9,000 children and adolescents died between 1999 and 2016 from prescription and illicit opioid poisonings.

FACT: In 2019, adolescents and teenagers who misused prescription pain relievers in the previous year commonly received the medication from a family member or friend.

FACT: Over 10 million people misused opioids in 2021.

To practice safe storage, patients can follow these three easy steps:

  • Keep track of your medication. If you take opioids for chronic pain, your doctor might increase your dosage more than once. That may cause you to lose track of your old prescription medication and leave them around the house for other members of the family to find. You might even forget where you left them. It’s imperative that you don’t lose sight of your prescriptions, especially if they’re unused. 
  • Limit access to your medication. If you live with small children, it’s irresponsible to leave any medicine, especially opioids, out in the open where they can reach. Consider storing your opioid medication in high places or locked cabinets that are hidden or out of sight.
  • Do not mix opioids with other medications. Mixing opioid pill bottles with other generic drugs such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) can increase the risk of accidental overdoses in the household. Keep opioid prescriptions separate from other drugs and in their original packaging so they can be easily identified.
  • Do not share your medication. Your opioid prescription was meant for you and only you. Sharing your medication could lead to misuse or an overdose. Technically, sharing prescription medication is a violation of the law.

To practice safe disposal, follow these guidelines:

  • Follow the disposal directions you received with your medicines. If you did not receive directions, ask your pharmacist about disposal or consult the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines.
  • Take advantage of programs that accept unused medications for proper disposal. Find a disposal location in your area by visiting the Allied Against Opioid Abuse website.
  • The FDA recommends folding fentanyl patches in half with the sticky sides together before flushing.
  • Scratch out all personal information on prescription containers before discarding them.
  • Ask your physician’s office or pharmacist if they provide medication disposal bags (these bags neutralize medicines to avoid damage to the environment).
  • Take a look at the FDA’s flush list. If you find your opioid medication on the list, it’s safe to flush.