By Cara Simaga
Drug diversion is a term widely understood to describe healthcare workers illegally taking medications that weren’t prescribed to them from their place of work. It has become a significant problem in America with more than 18.7M prescription pills diverted in 2018. However, there’s another side to drug diversion that impacts those not in the healthcare field, but rather those receiving the care.
The abuse of prescription medication is a widespread problem and it could be impacting someone close to you without your knowledge. The challenge, particularly for those prescribed this medication for pain or illness, is ensuring that it stays only in yours or the intended person’s hands. In fact, according to the CDC, one in four Americans say they’ve been offered or given unused prescription drugs by a friend or family member for medical or recreational use. Although it may be with the best of intentions, drug diversion poses a problem and fuels the current opioid epidemic.
Addressing this issue is an unfortunate reality, as older adults are often targets of drug diversion given nearly half (46 percent) of people between 70 and 79 take at least five prescription drugs to treat chronic illnesses. Let’s explore the best ways that seniors and their families can prevent drug diversion at home this year.
Keep track of your medication
While it may seem obvious, keeping a close eye on your medications is one of the easiest ways to ensure that you’re the only one with access to it. If possible, keep the medications in one place, or in day-by-day containers to make it simpler to keep track of. Requesting a smaller quantity of pills per prescription is another way to lower the number of pills available, as well as ensure there are fewer leftover pills that you need to dispose of if you stop taking the medication.
Be aware of those around you
Whether you live with family, have a daily nurse or even frequent visitors, it’s important to monitor for any behavior that might indicate prescription drug abuse and drug diversion. Half of teens believe that prescription drugs are safer than illegal street drugs, and over 60 percent say that the prescription drugs come from their home medicine cabinets. This indicates that prescription medications are likely being diverted even more than most of us are aware of, and perhaps by those we wouldn’t expect, leading to a need for more awareness around drug diversion at home, rather than just in healthcare facilities.
Choose a safe disposal method
When medications are expired or no longer needed, there’s often an inclination to throw them in the trash or flush them down the toilet. However, this pharmaceutical waste, if not properly disposed, is a common source of drug diversion.
Seniors and their families should call their local pharmacy or law enforcement offices to determine if they have a drug take-back program where they can drop off these expired or unused medications for proper disposal. If it’s too tough to leave your home, there are also safe and secure mail-in alternatives to dispose of the medication.
While it may seem unnecessary to keep an eye on those closest to you, more than 15 million people in America abuse prescription drugs, and according to the DEA, 70 percent of people who misuse prescription painkillers for the first time acquire those drugs from friends or family. This year more than ever, it’s important for the both the safety of those closest to you and your communities to handle prescription drugs carefully and dispose of them properly.
Cara Simaga is Director of Regulatory Affairs for Stericycle.