HealthDay News — More than half of patients prescribed opioids receive more than they need, and many share the drugs or fail to store them securely, according to research published online in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Alene Kennedy-Hendricks, PhD, an assistant scientist in the department of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, and colleagues surveyed 1,055 adults in 2015 who had been prescribed opioids in the previous year. Nearly 47% were taking opioids at the time of the survey. All were asked about their own opioid use, their opioid storage habits, and whether they gave their medication to others. A total of 1,032 participants completed the survey.

The researchers found that nearly 6 in 10 said they either had excess medication or expected to have leftovers. One in 5 (20.7%) reported ever having shared their medication with another person. Of patients who shared their medication, 7.7% said they gave them to a friend and 13.7% said they gave them to a relative. Nearly three-quarters (73%) said they gave their spare medications to someone they knew who also struggled with pain. Nearly half who had recently been prescribed opioids said they didn’t remember being told about safe opioid storage.

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In a second study published in the same journal, Anupam Jena, MD, an associate professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues focused on 623,597 Medicare recipients. They found that, on average, 14.9% of hospital patients get a new opioid prescription at discharge. Of those patients, 42.5% were found to still be taking opioids more than 3 months later. “Our findings,” Dr Jena told HealthDay, “corroborate prior work that suggests that short-term exposure to opioids can lead to long-term use and, at worse, dependence.”

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  1. Kennedy-Hendricks A, Gielen A, McDonald E, et al. Medication Sharing, Storage, and Disposal Practices for Opioid Medications Among US Adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2016; doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.2543
  2. Jen AB, Goldman D, Mandic-Karaca P, et al. Hospital Prescribing of Opioids to Medicare Beneficiaries. JAMA Intern Med. 2016; doi:10.1001/ajaminternmed.2016.2737