Illicit Sharing of Narcotic Painkillers Contributes to U.S. Opioid Epidemic

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Illicit Sharing of Narcotic Painkillers Contributes to U.S. Opioid Epidemic

According to a study of over 1,000 adults prescribed narcotic painkillers, over half reported they received more medication than needed. Furthermore, many of them shared the drugs, or neglected to store them in a secure location.

This is a troubling statistic, which no doubt contributes to the nation’s opioid abuse and overdose epidemic. Indeed, 20% admitted to having shared the drugs with someone else – most often to help that person with their own pain.

Sixty percent of those with leftover medication said they kept the drugs for future use. Nearly half said they had never been advised about secure storage, or keeping them out of others’ reach.

In 2015, researchers surveyed 1,055 adults who had been prescribed narcotic painkillers in the previous 12 months. Almost 47% were actively using opioids at the time of participation. They were asked about their opioid use, as well as storage and sharing habits.

Of those who said they received information on secure storage, only 33% said the instructions came from a medical professional. The pharmacist or drug packaging was responsible for the information in 45% of cases.

Less than 10% said they kept their medication securely locked, and 20% said they stored it in a latched location. Not many seemed to know how to safely render excess medication.

Alene Kennedy-Hendricks, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:

“We need to make it easier and more convenient for people to dispose of their leftover opioid medication. There have been efforts in recent years to expand drop-off sites and approved collectors, but perhaps it has not been enough.”

Among patients who shared their drugs, 8% said they gave to a friend, and 14% said they gave them to a relative. Almost 75% said they gave extra medication to someone else who needed them for pain.

More Statistics

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overdose deaths from prescription narcotic painkillers more than tripled in the U.S between 1999-2014. The CDC has warned physicians about over-prescribing opioids, which can increase the risk of addiction, and lead to the use of cheaper street heroin.

The results appear in a letter published in the June 13 issue of the Journal of American Medicine Association (JAMA Internal Medicine).


It is clear that medical professionals need to educate would-be prescription holders on the safe storage and disposal of narcotic painkillers. As far as the dangers of sharing their drugs – this goes without saying.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

Related: 8 Celebrities Who Died of An Opiate Overdose

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