Opioids Often Stored Unsafely in Homes with Children


An alarming number of prescription opioid medications are not properly stored in homes with children, the results of a recent study have revealed.1

The study, published in Pediatrics, examined data from a 2015 survey of 5,000 adults, 681 of whom had used opioid pain relievers in the past year while living with children aged 17 years and younger.

The researchers found that only 31% of these participants reported safely storing their opioids in a locked or latched place where their children could not easily access these medications.

Additionally, although 73% of these respondents agreed that children can overdose on opioids more easily than adults, only 13% expressed concern about their children accessing their medication, with parents of older children significantly less likely to worry about children accessing opioids than parents of younger children.

“Our work shines a light on the pervasiveness of unsafely stored opioids in American homes with children,” said lead author Eileen McDonald, MS, in a press release. “Unsafely stored opioids can contribute to accidental ingestions among younger children and pilfering by older children, especially high school students.”

McDonald added that teenagers who use opioids recreationally frequently acquire them from homes at which these drugs are easily accessible.

While the study authors emphasized the importance of educating patients with children on safe medication storage, they also noted that the development of new packaging technology could help prevent older children from accessing their parent’s drugs.

“Unfortunately, the current child-resistant packaging that was transformative in reducing medication poisoning in young children will not keep older children and teens safe," stated senior author Andrea Gielen, ScD, ScM, “We need new packaging, such as tamper-resistant, personalized pill dispensers, to make it easier for parents to keep these potentially dangerous medications inaccessible to older children.”

Additionally, the researchers of a separate study recommended that health care providers prescribe smaller quantities of opioids or different medications altogether to patients with young children. In that study, kids aged 10 years and younger were found to face a greater risk of drug overdose when their mothers are prescribed opioids.2


  • 1.McDonald EM. Kennedy-Hendricks A, McGinty EE, et al. Safe storage of opioid pain relievers among adults living in households with children. Pediatrics. 2017;138:3.
  • Finkelstein Y, Macdonald EM, Gonzalez A, et al. Overdose Risk in Young Children of Women Prescribed Opioids. Pediatrics. 2017, doi: e20162887.

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