University of North Texas Health Science Center launches educational drug disposal campaign

Before COVID-19 became part of everyday American life, the U.S. was fighting a different crisis – a war against opiates.

Communities were grappling with a triple-wave crisis. The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth was among institutions in the long fight.

HSC students trained to use the opiate reversal drug, naloxone. HSC experts looked for ways to decrease opioid-related overdose deaths and better monitor prescriptions. Other experts studied how DNA research into chronic lower-back pain could help patients understand when opioids won’t work for them.

HSC’s commitment didn’t diminish as COVID-19 emerged and the university helped set up virus testing sites and document the disease’s impact.

Social distancing, the recession and stress tied to COVID-19 made an already complicated opiate crisis more complex. Many families sheltered in place with loved ones who struggle with addiction, and social service programs aimed at helping were disrupted.

Those social dynamics were documented in The Washington Post, which posted a national report on July 1 titled: “‘Cries for help’: Drug overdoses are soaring during the coronavirus pandemic.”

It’s too easy for people struggling with addiction to find leftover pain prescriptions in the home. About 1.4 billion opioid prescriptions were dispensed between 2012 and 2017, and about 70% remain unused.

More than 6 million Americans misused drugs in 2017, and it is even more crucial now to turn that statistic around. Properly destroying and disposing of leftover drugs is an important step in achieving that goal.

HSC currently provides a safe place to dispose of unneeded and expired drugs on campus. The secure drop box is available to the public in the HSC Police Department lobby, 3600 Mattison Ave. It’s open 24/7.

We understand that in-home services are more crucial during the pandemic. So, HSC is launching an educational campaign that shows families how to properly dispose of drugs, thanks to a donation of Deterra pouches by Verde. They contain pods with chemicals that, when warm water is added, deactivate medication.

A study, published in JAMA Surgery and conducted by the University of Michigan Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network, or OPEN, with partial funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 7 out of 10 patients have leftover opioids after surgery. But only 18% of those patients dispose of them properly.

Michigan’s OPEN further states that three in five teenagers find pain medication in their parents’ medicine cabinet, and 12.5 million people age 12 and older misused opiates in the last year.

Parents need to be vigilant. Experts stress that the drugs most commonly abused by teens are not a certain kind but the ones that were easiest to grab. It’s the half bottle of painkillers left untouched on the dresser.

Teens aren’t the only young people at risk. Children younger than 5 make up 50% of all pediatric medication poisonings – the result of accidental self-exposure, according to a 2018 report in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.

Flushing unwanted pills in the toilet isn’t a solution because they can reach waste water treatment centers and contaminate lakes, streams, fish and wildlife.

It just takes a few minutes to safely destroy the Oxycodone or other painkillers in the medicine cabinet. Isn’t this preventive measure worth the time?