Health Matters: Storing, disposing of prescription drugs

April 25, 2017 GMT

Prescription drug abuse has grown across the United States, especially the abuse of prescription pain killers. The abuse of those pain killers, also known as opioids, for nonmedical uses has become about as common as marijuana use.

The fact that these drugs are manufactured in FDA-regulated labs and prescribed by doctors does not make them safe. Recent deaths due to heroin tainted with the prescription opioid fentanyl suggest that prescription drugs can sometimes be more dangerous than street drugs.

Between 2000 and 2015 there were 693 deaths in Montana due to prescription pain killer poisoning. A handful more deaths were related to prescription opioids, including fatal car crashes among drivers who were under the influence of drugs. Fortunately Montanans has never seen the number of deaths of experienced by some states, and the number of opioid-related deaths in Montana may be declining. In 2015, there were 35 opioid-related deaths in Montana, the lowest number in nearly 15 years.


With the increasing awareness of this problem has come a crackdown on doctors overprescribing opioids, as well as increased warnings and sanctions from the FDA to prevent abuse. The 2011 Montana Legislature created the Montana Prescription Drug Registry as an online tool to allow health care providers to identify potential abuse of controlled substances and deter “doctor shopping” by patients who move from providers to provider to get multiple opioid prescriptions. The database allows medical prescribers and pharmacists to search their patient’s medical history for controlled substances. In another effort to avoid prescription drug addiction, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published guidelines in 2016 for prescribing opioids for chronic pain that balance treatment benefits and risks.

There are also a few simple things the public can do to help curb prescription drug abuse:

Store medications properly at home.Get rid of leftover and outdated prescriptions.Never give a prescription medicine to someone else to use and never use another person’s prescription.

Many pharmacies sell lockboxes to help to keep your medications safe from children and from theft. To dispose of unused medications, nearly 50 prescription medicine drop boxes have been installed around Montana. In Billings and Laurel those drop box locations are in the lobbies of both police departments. If you cannot use a drop box, mix drugs with an undesirable substance such as sawdust, cat litter or used coffee grounds. Put the mixture into a disposable, sealed container, and put the container in the trash.

Another major step the public can take to prevent prescription drug abuse is to reach out. As a parent, teach children that these medications are not safe to take without a prescription. If you know someone who is abusing drugs, let the person know that you are willing to help or find someone who can help.

The National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on April 29 offers another way to responsibly dispose of prescription drugs and a way to educate the public on the potential for abuse. You can find Take Back sites listed on the U.S. Department of Justice website.