Over half of patients prescribed with opioid painkillers receive more than they need and many end up sharing their extra drugs, a new study has found.
Apart from sharing the prescription drugs, many also fail to store their medications properly.
Findings showed how many people in the United States get illegal access to these addictive painkillers. Apart from the dangers of illicit dosage, the pattern adds to the growing epidemic of painkiller abuse and related deaths.
The new study analyzed over 1,000 adult patients prescribed with Vicodin or OxyContin. When the survey was conducted in 2015, almost 47 percent were currently taking opioid drugs.
Six in 10 people said they received extra painkillers or they expected they would have leftovers when the treatment ends.
One in five people said they shared their prescribed opioid drug to another individual. They indicated the desire to help another person manage his or her pain as the primary reason for sharing the prescribed drug.
The study also found that over 60 percent of patients left with extra opioid medications keep the drugs for future usage. Almost half of the study participants who had recently received their prescribed opioid painkillers said they don't remember their doctors telling them not to share the drugs with anyone else as part of proper painkiller storage.
Among the people who said they received proper opioid storage instructions, only one-third of the participants said the information came from their physician or a nurse. In about 45 percent of the participants, the information came from a pharmacist or from the medication's packaging.
"The fact that people are sharing their leftover prescription painkillers at such high rates is a big concern. It's fine to give a friend a Tylenol if they're having pain but it's not fine to give your OxyContin to someone without a prescription," said Professor Colleen Barry from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg's Center for Mental Health and Addiction Policy Research.
Alarmingly, none of the participants knew how to properly dispose of their leftover opioid medications.
"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," said lead author Alene Kennedy-Hendricks, an assistant scientist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's health policy and management department.
The findings were published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal on June 13.