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April 25, 2024

Where Every Family Matters

Medication Safety & the Opioid Crisis

Up to 70 percent of painkillers are unsecured in homes. With all that we know about accidental overdoses in kids, lock up ALL of your medications.

It’s not uncommon for a grandparent to be living in the same home with his grandchildren’s family. A grandparent who lives with chronic pain. Maybe he keeps his oxycodone on the nightstand next to his bed for convenience. Perhaps someone in your household has serious knee issues requiring Percocet or Vicodin. You can’t always be there to keep children safe from prescription drugs left casually about. What to do?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a recent study shows that there was a 268% increase in pediatric opioid death rate from 1999 – 2016.

If you or someone in your home — adult or child — is prescribed pain medication, it is YOUR responsibility to keep the medication safe. Overdoses happen when young children find a pill on the floor and ingest it like candy, or when a curious teen decides he wants to experiment with getting high. Be the observant parent at home and keep all prescription medications locked safely away and keep innocent children healthy and safe.


Given the nation’s opioid addiction crisis, throwing out or returning any leftover prescription pain medicine is one of the small but significant things parents can do at home to keep kids safe. 

Yet results from the 2016 C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health found many parents still hold onto their child’s leftover pain medications. Further, a 2017 report from John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that approximately 70 percent of prescription painkillers in households across America are left unsecured and well within children’s reach.

The report, published in Pediatrics, the online journal of the AAP, shows kids younger than 17 have no trouble getting their hands on prescription opioids.

“We can’t leave opioids just sitting on the nightstand or kitchen counter,” says Eileen McDonald, lead study author. “Parents need to be, at a minimum, putting them out of the way, but ideally putting them under lock and key.”
Will you heed the warning? Will you help educate your kids about safe drug use?

Nearly 2 million people in the U.S. are prescribed painkillers every year. And while the “looseness” with prescribing is mainly to blame for the rise in accidental overdose deaths in children younger than 17,  parents play a major role in safeguarding children from drug use.


In the past, a child with an injury warranting pain medication would be given Tylenol with codeine. In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changed the labels on the drug because of codeine’s adverse effects on children. 

Now, hydrocodone’s on the chopping block for kids, too. Last month, the FDA said cough and cold medicines containing opioid ingredients such as codeine and hydrocodone should no longer be given to children of any age. Revisions are coming to safety labels, but in the meantime, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says some children continue to be prescribed codeine and the even more potent opioid prescriptions such as oxycodone. 

How can you intervene to keep your child safe? Put yourself in charge of the medication. Ask your pediatrician how to best control your child’s pain with over-the-counter options. If he is prescribed pain medication, review and write down the doses with the doctor before going home so you’re 100 percent clear on how to proceed. And when your child no longer needs the pain medication, toss it out.


• Teach children how to use medicine safely
• Opioid poisonings in toddlers and preschoolers in creased 205% between 1997 and 2012
• The teen death rate from drug overdoses that had been declining since 2007 reversed in 2015 when 772 teens ages 15 – 19 died nationwide.

About the Author

Susan Swindell Day

Susan Day is the editor in chief for this award-winning publication and all-things Nashville Parent digital creative. She's also an Equity actress, screenwriter and a mom of four amazing kids.