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Study finds most people hoard prescription painkillers

Posted on 09-16-2016 Posted in Addiction, Medicine, Substance Abuse - 0 Comments

A recent study indicated that the majority of people in the United States who have been prescribed opioids don’t properly dispose of the prescription painkillers and instead hold onto them for later use.

These alarming results were published in the scientific journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study

This study, led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, was designed to see whether adults take proper precautions when it came to throwing away old opioid painkiller prescriptions. As the opioid epidemic claims the lives of roughly 78 Americans a day, it’s vital that we understand where – and how – individuals are acquiring the drugs.

The researchers surveyed 1,032 adults who had been prescribed an opioid within the last year.

As it turns out, most of the people who were surveyed held onto their extra pills rather than safely throwing them away.


  1. 60 percent of people held onto their prescription painkillers longer than necessary.
  2. 66 percent of these people are holding onto the painkillers for future use.
  3. 20 percent of these people have shared their medications with other people.
  4. 9 percent of these people kept their painkillers in a locked place.

Since opioids have a high abuse potential – and since doctors have no way of tracing where these opioids end up – these high numbers have made the researchers concerned.

“We are approaching these medications more like we would Tylenol and there is not sufficient attention to the highest levels of harm they can do in terms of both the risk of addiction and overdose,” said the study’s lead author Colleen L. Barry, Ph.D. Dr. Barry is also co-director of Johns Hopkins Center for Mental Health and Addiction Policy Research. “The public needs to understand these medications should never be shared.”

The researchers aren’t sure why so many people have leftover pills. It’s possible that some patients intentionally take a lower dosage and hoard their unused pills to share with others. It’s also possible that doctors regularly give people too many pills because they don’t understand how much should be prescribed. Regardless of the why, however, these leftover pills are very much present and can be dangerous if they’re not properly discarded.

“These are not over-the-counter pain medications like Tylenol or Advil,” said Dr. Barry. “These are medications like Vicodin or OxyContin that are often prescribed for the management of acute or long-term pain and they are highly addictive.”

In the end, the researchers concluded that the medical community should have stricter regulations to prevent patients from receiving more opioids than necessary. They also suggested that the public should receive better education about the risks associated with unregulated opioid use.

At Sovereign Health of Florida, our addiction treatment staff members are highly trained and second-to-none in their respective fields. We do more than help our patients through detox and withdrawal – we provide patients with numerous therapy options as well as restorative activities designed to both educate and prevent relapse. We use evidence-based modalities to treat substance abuse, including prescription drug abuse, as well as any co-occurring conditions. Our clinicians strive to educate not only patients but also their loved ones about the condition. For more information, please contact our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Courtney Lopresti, M.S., is a senior staff writer for Sovereign Health, where she uses her scientific background to write online blogs and articles for a general audience. At the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her master’s in neuroscience, she used functional neuroimaging to study how the human cerebellum contributes to language processing. In her spare time, she writes fiction, reads Oliver Sacks and spends time with her two cats and bird. Courtney is currently located in Minneapolis. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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