Keeping Controlled Substances Safe in the Home


Managing your pain is such an important part of your well-being and quality of life. Your doctor may prescribe certain pain medications called opioids to help manage your pain. These medications can help you live better and with less pain when taken correctly. When in the wrong hands or when misused, however, these medications can lead to abuse and addiction. You, as the patient or caregiver, can play a huge role in keeping these medications, as well as other controlled substances like Xanax®(alprazolam), Ativan®(lorazepam), and Ambien®(zolpidem), safe in your home and out of reach from the wrong hands. Below are a few tips to help you do so!

Your Medication Is For You

When your doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant prescribes an opioid or any other controlled substance, they are prescribing it for you. The medication, the dose, and how frequently you take it, all depend on your body and your disease. It may not work the same way in another person and can be dangerous and even deadly if given to someone else. A medication and dose that is right for you may lead to overdose in another person. That is why it is so important that you do not share your medication with other people.

Follow The Directions

When you pick your medication up from the pharmacy, the directions will be written on the bottle. Storing opioids and other controlled substances in their original packages is important, so they are able to be easily identified and taken according to the directions on the package. Try not to put controlled substances into pill boxes or other storage containers.

Make sure to always take the medication how you are instructed to do so. Sometimes, the medication prescribed may not be working as well as you would have hoped. You may still be in pain after taking an opioid, or your anxiety may not be controlled after taking an anti-anxiety medication. If this happens and if you feel that you need a higher dose or a different medication, talk to a healthcare provider before changing anything! They can help you figure out what the appropriate next step is, in order to better control your symptoms.    

Treat these controlled substances like you would treat your jewelry, cash, or other valuables. This means that you should keep them in a safe place and under lock and key, if you feel this is necessary. Keep these and all medications out of reach and out of sight from children and guests. It is also important to never tell young children that medication is candy to persuade them to take it, so they do not accidentally ingest your controlled substance medications if it falls into their hands.

Keep Out Of Reach Of Others

If you ever have any questions about the safe handling of controlled substances like opioids, talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist! They can help answer any questions you may have and help you secure any controlled medications you or a loved one may be taking.

Dispose Of Medications Safely

Any expired, unwanted, or unused medicines can be disposed of in a local “take back” program or medication drop box at a police station. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sponsors National Prescription Drug Take Back Day in communities nationwide. Many communities also have their own drug take back programs. Check with your local law enforcement officials to find a location near you or the DEA to find a DEA-authorized collection site in your community. You can also check with your local pharmacist as some pharmacies have mail-back programs and disposal kiosks for unused medicines. 

When a take-back option is not readily available, you can dispose of medicines at home. Because some medications such as controlled substances have high risk for abuse, it is recommended that they be flushed down the toiled by the FDA. The following link has a list of medications that are recommended to be flushed if disposing of them at home: https://www.fda.gov/drugs/safe-disposal-medicines/disposal-unused-medicines-what-you-should-know#Medicines_recommended

If you ever have any questions about the safe handling of controlled substances like opioids, talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist! They can help answer any questions you may have and help you secure any controlled medications you or a loved one may be taking. 


About the Author:

Sweta Patel is an Oncology Clinical Pharmacy Specialist working with the breast cancer and gynecology oncology patient populations. She is a board certified oncology pharmacist and helps to take care of oncology patients, providing education and counseling on chemotherapies and side effect management, and serving as a drug information resource for her patients and providers.