Maryland's Prescription Opioid Storage Habits

The following update was provided by the Behavioral Health Research Team, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy: Kimberly Stinchcomb, MPH Marianne Gibson, MS Nicole Sealfon, MPH, Fadia Shaya, PhD

Non-medical use of prescription opioids is a public health epidemic that has touched all corners of Maryland. Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) showed that over 206,000 Marylanders reported past-year non-medical use of prescription opioids. While there are many risks associated with prescription opioid misuse, including death, there is cause for more concern as many new heroin users are transitioning from prescription opioids.

Prescription opioids can be accessed in a variety of ways, including through sharing and stealing in homes. One way to prevent prescription drug diversion is through proper storage. In the fall of 2016, the Behavioral Health Research Team, housed within the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, administered the second iteration of the Maryland Public Opinion Survey on Opioids (MPOS) to assess the opinions and behaviors regarding prescription opioids and heroin.

Participants of the 2016 MPOS included 5,496 Maryland residents aged 18 years and older. Storage habits of prescription opioids were identified through the following questions: 1) In your opinion, where should prescription opioids be stored? 2) Have you or anyone in your household been prescribed an opioid medication in the past 12 months? 3) The location where the prescription opioid is stored is a) always locked, b) sometimes locked, c) never locked, or d) I no longer have it. 4) How often do you count your prescription opioids for monitoring? Over 96% (n=4,301) of respondents stated that opioids should be stored in a locked place; however, among those who had a member in their household taking prescription opioids, about 58% (n=1,008) reported that the medication was stored in a location that was never locked. Only 16% (n=294) of the respondents reported that the medication was locked up sometimes or always. Furthermore, over 75% (n=1,398) reported that they never counted their prescription opioids, which would show proper monitoring.

MPOS findings showed that although people recognize that prescription opioids should be kept in a locked location, the majority are not doing so. Public health professionals need to continue to educate residents on how to safely store and monitor their prescription drugs. While safe storage of medications will not solve the opioid epidemic, it is a piece of the puzzle that can curtail drug diversion.