Reduce Non-Medical Access to Prescription Drugs

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Introductory Paragraph

To minimize diversion, it is essential that people who have prescription medications in their homes store them safely.  When people begin to misuse prescription drugs, they often acquire them by stealing them from family, relatives, friends or from homes that they enter for other reasons (work, open houses, breaking and entering).  If prescription drugs are safely stored, misuse can be stopped earlier, because people who have not yet developed a dependence on opioids usually do not go directly to illegal opioids like heroin or fentanyl.   Prescription drugs that are not safely stored can also be accidentally taken by young children or by curious pre-teens.

Key Information

Safe storage of prescription drugs within the home has been identified as key priority strategy by many organizations and coalitions.[1] Even if a community does an excellent job of reducing prescriptions and taking back or disposing of unused opioids, there will still be a lot of opioids in communities. Researchers estimated that in 2005, 3-4% of people were being prescribed opioids for chronic pain[2] and many others are legitimately being prescribed opioids for short-term pain management, and many others who are prescribed other drugs that can be misused, stolen or accidentally consumed by children.

Failure to securely store prescription drugs contributes to the opioid epidemic and other health hazards in several ways.

1. Easy access to prescription drugs can lead to initial experimentation, especially by teens.1.[3]

2. Stealing prescription drugs, which is much easier when they are commonly available in unlocked medicine cabinets, is often a step toward more destructive misuse.

3. Easy access to unsecured opioids or other prescription drugs contributes to theft by people who sell them or give them away.

4. Children who access unsecured drugs sometimes take them, thinking they are candy.

Staggering Statistics

Only 2 in 10 who have dangerous medications—such as opioid pain pills, stimulants used to treat ADHD, and sedatives—lock them up Nearly 70% of prescription opioid medications kept in homes with children are not stored safely[4].   

A recent study of adults living in households with children, prescription opioids were stored in a locked or latched place in only 32.6% of households with young children and 11.7% with older children.[5]

More than 1,600 teens begin abusing prescription drugs each day.

Almost 1 in every 4 teens in America say they have misused or abused a prescription drug.[6]

60,000 kids under the age of 5 accidentally ingest these dangerous drugs every year and wind up in emergency rooms, according to data from the CDC[7]

12-17 year old abuse prescription drugs more than ecstasy, heroin, crack/cocaine and methamphetamines combined.

In one study, respondents reported storing their opioid medication in a locked (8.6%) or latched (20.9%) location.[8]

San Diego's SafeHomes Coalition reports that more than 70% of misused prescription drugs come from someone's medicine cabinet, not from a dealer on the street.[9]

The National Drug Intelligence Center reported that $184 million in prescription drug thefts occurred in 2010—a 350 percent increase since 2007. They note that older people are especially vulnerable to theft of prescription drugs.[10]  Over half of teens, ages 12 and up, obtained prescription drugs from a friend or family member "for free"

Programs to Encourage Safe Storage and Reduce the Theft of Prescription Drugs

Examples of Campaigns and Organizations Supporting Safe Storage

SafeHomes Coalition[11] helps communities start programs to raise awareness of the proper use, storage and disposal of prescription drugs. (They can help your community start a chapter.) This SafeHomes PSA provides more information.

Up and Away Campaign[12]
This campaign is designed to remind families about the importance of safe medicine storage. 

Launching Community-wide Collaborative Campaigns[13]

Drug Disposal and Safe Storage Campaign
Many communities have done some education and awareness efforts to increase prescription drug disposal and safe storage, but there is potential to reach significantly more people by engaging a diverse group of cross-sector partners in a campaign.


Self-Funding Program for Safe Storage Caps (TimerCaps)
A local coalition, hospital, insurance company or non-profit can sponsor a program to distribute TimerCaps to people using prescription drugs. Sponsors have their logo imprinted on the cap and the label and can give them away at community events or via partners like pharmacists, community groups for seniors, or the prescribing doctors.

Safe Storage Products
Below are list of products that can either be distributed within your community or advertised by community coalitions for families to purchase.

TimerCap has a built-in LCD stopwatch timer. Like a stopwatch, the display on the cap counts-up, first the seconds, then minutes and hours since the cap was replaced.  Timer caps come in different sizes, and they can replace an existing medicine bottle cap (or you can get a cap and bottle combination). Using a TimerCap helps accomplish all six principles of prescription abuse prevention. TimerCaps are easy to use and don't require a change in patient behavior.

Improve Patient Safety

Provide the PEACE OF MIND of knowing they did or did not take their medication.
Help seniors avoid accidental overdoses and emergency room visits due to accidentally taking medications multiple times.
Easily know how long it has been since taking medication (to check before driving)
Tracker form to help monitor their intake and pain levels or other information

Deter Theft of Pills

Easily detect unwanted openings to the exact minute it happened
Deters kids or neighbors from sneaking a few pills--as they would be caught by the new time
Solution to measure, monitor, manage, detect and deter opioids abuse.

Economical Enough to Give Away at Events or by Partners
TimerCaps[14] are a low-cost option for improving safe storage (as low as $2.49 each), so they are economical as a give-away at educational events, or they can be given to people by community partners. Since the TimerCap lids and labels can be customized with a logo or other branding information, sponsors who make donations to fund the program receive valuable recognition for their support. 
Locking Storage Devices
Ikeyp[15]  The world's first smart storage device for personal items that need to be securely stored yet regularly accessed. See website for a comprehensive list of uses and products. 

Gadgetgram[16] Coordinated community-wide effort to promote safe storage of prescription drugs, bulk purchase discounts may be available.

Lockable Caps
Safer Lock-Safer Lock is a patented 4-digit combination locking cap. This could be purchased by communities at wholesale prices and distributed to community members at lower prices.

  • Safer Lock
  • Safer Lock Box
  • Safer Lock Multi-Packs & Cases
  • Book Safe

Changing Drug Packaging
Packaging opioid drugs in blister packs , or in single-dose packages, instead of having an entire bottle filled with prescription pills have been shown to help prevent accident poisonings in children[17]

One vendor of Single-dose packets is Pack4U. They provide a sophisticated, personalized option that allows pharmacies to deliver higher value to patients needing any prescriptions, including opioids.

Education Topics

Educate Parents on Key Points
The most secure way to keep prescription medications is in a locked storage box up and away If locking them is not an option keep them stored in a secured place in your home that is up and away from children. Keep a medication log so you know what medications you have and how many you have of each medication.
You should try to do an inventory of all the medicines you have at least once a year, preferably every six months.[18]

Medications whose labels specify that refrigeration is necessary should always be kept in the refrigerator. The medicine cabinet in a bathroom is often not the best place to store prescriptions. They should be stored in a cool dry place. Humidity, heat, and the change in temperatures in the bathroom can alter the potency of some medications.[19]  Some storage devices, such as iKeyp, can help protect medications from humidity, even if stored in bathrooms.



Relevant Research

Case Study of Successful Coalition Campaign with TimerCaps-  South Kingston Program for Prevention and Rebels Inspiring Positive Lifestyles joined forces to raise funds to send youth leaders to CADCA training. The coalition held community awareness events and garnered local news publicity for their cause.[20]

Safe Medicine Storage: A look at the disconnect between parent knowledge and behavior[21]


Impactful Federal, State, and Local Policies

 SAFE Solutions is an ever-growing platform. Currently limited information is readily available for this section. SAFE Project is dedicated to providing communities with the most relevant and innovative materials. We will continue to regularly monitor and make updates accordingly with community input and subject matter expert collaboration. Please check back soon.


Available Tools and Resources

Environmental Strategies to Prevent the Non-Medical Use of Prescription Drugs[22]



Promising Practices

Coalitions in Action: South Kingstown Partnership for Prevention Launches Med Safety Campaign[23]

Up and Away Campaign- Put your medicines up and away out of sight[24]

The National Action Plan for Adverse Drug Event Prevention- (ADE Action Plan) identifies common, preventable, and measurable adverse drug events and aligns the efforts of Federal health agencies to reduce patient harms from these ADEs nationwide.[25]

Protect logo -The PROTECT Initiative is an innovative collaboration led by CDC. PROTECT unites public health agencies, private sector companies, professional organizations, consumer/patient advocates, and academic experts to keep children safe from unintended medication overdoses. [26]



  8. Kennedy-Hendricks A, et al. “Medication sharing, storage and disposal practices for opioid medications among US adults.” JAMA Intern Med 2016; 176:1027-29.
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