How safely disposing of leftover medication can help fight the opioid crisis

This is part of a series from CBC’s Information Morning where Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton discusses her “health hacks” — ways to make your experience with the health-care system better.

The vast majority of opioid-related deaths in Canada are the result of someone unknowingly consuming a dangerous drug, and that’s why a Nova Scotia health-care consultant is urging people to get rid of leftover medications from their homes.

Mary Jane Hampton said drugs given to patients after a surgery often end up in the wrong hands.

A recent study involving Ontario students in grades 7 to 12 found that 72 per cent had taken opioids they found at home, she said.

Hampton says people shouldn’t flush leftover medication down the toilet, but rather return it to a pharmacy to be disposed of properly. (Robert Short/CBC)

“While the illicit drug trade is a big part of the story, an equally big part of the story is these leftover medications that are just sitting waiting to be picked up,” Hampton told CBC’s Information Morning.

Hampton said people shouldn’t flush medication down the toilet, but rather put pills in a bag and take them to a pharmacy to be disposed of properly.

“That is a simple, immediate, effective thing that you can do to keep people in your household and in your circle of friends safe,” she said.

More research needed on testing kits

In the first three months of 2019, there were 1,082 opioid-related deaths in Canada, said the federal government.

The crisis is especially acute in B.C. where 299 people died from January to March of this year. In Nova Scotia, by comparison, 13 people died during that time period, according to federal government data.

“In B.C., about 24 people per 100,000 will die of an opioid addiction as compared to Nova Scotia, which is about 5.4 people per 100,000, so you can get the sense that it’s distributed differently across the country,” Hampton said.

While free fentanyl-testing kits are being introduced in B.C., Hampton said it’s still too early to rely on this method to keep people safe, and that more research is needed.

“Testing kits, we think, give a false sense of confidence that the product that you are taking is safe when actually the testing kits may not detect everything that’s in that drug,” she said.

Hampton said if you are going to use drugs, never do so alone.

“I have friends within my close circle who’ve lost children, who lost adult children, and so it is a crisis and it comes really really close to home,” she said.

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