Safe storage of opioid prescription drugs

It needn’t be said, but we are clearly living through a time of great challenge, and great change, both of which require huge efforts of adjustment on everyone’s part.

We are confined to the so-called safety of our own homes; but homes are not always the safest place for families affected by drug or alcohol misuse; there may be increased conflict between couples if, for example, drinking levels increase; more stress and tension in drug using households, and greater levels of domestic violence. Children may be particularly at risk.

One specific issue is that of the safe storage of opioid substitution treatments. Our report: Medications in Drug Treatment: Tackling the Risks to Children, is now some 5 years old, but the findings of our research, and the recommendations for practitioners, are still relevant, and particularly so in the current climate.

OST is an extremely valuable tool in the fight against drug dependency, and Adfam has always been clear that the evidence base supports its part in our treatment system. The overwhelming majority of the people who need and use OST do so safely. However, we also must recognise that the drugs used – especially methadone – are toxic, powerful and a clear danger to children when stored or used incorrectly by their parents and carers. Our research found that between 2003 and 2013, there were 20 Serious Case Reviews which implicated OST drugs. These reviews involved 23 children, of whom 17 died.

We made a series of recommendations, highlighting the prominent role for pharmacists, health visitors, social workers, drug treatment workers and the police in safeguarding children from the risks of OST ingestion. We called for the need for all concerned to review or develop the guidance for pharmacists and specialist workers who are prescribing drugs for adults who care for children or live in the same household as children. We stressed the need for more training for all practitioners coming across drug using families and for all staff to ensure that their assessments of these families included issues relating to safe use and storage of drug equipment and substances. And we made the case for national provision of free, lockable boxes for the storage of OST medications — Including safe disposal messages and clear warnings on the fatal risks of administering OST drugs to children.

You can find out more about our work on opioid Substitution Treatment and risks to children on our website, or download our reports below:

Medications in drug treatment: Tackling the risks to children (2014)

Medications in drug treatment: Tackling the risks to children - one year on (2015)

Opioid Substitute Treatment (OST) and risks to children: Good Practice Guide (2018)

We also designed a training course for local authorities look at how relevant agencies can work together to create a joint plan for working together to safeguard local children from OST.

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