Opioids in Adolescents’ Homes: Prevalence, Caregiver Attitudes, and Risk Reduction Opportunities

Jane M. Garbutt, Katharine Kulka, Sherry Dodd, Randall Sterkel, Kathryn Plax

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Objective: The most common source of misused opioids is pain relievers prescribed for family and friends. This study was conducted to assess knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of adolescents’ caregivers regarding prescribed opioids in the home. Methods: The self-administered survey was completed by caregivers in the waiting rooms of 12 pediatric practices in the Midwest. Eligibility required living in a home where youth age ≥10 years were frequently present. Out of 793 eligible caregivers, 700 (88.3%) completed the survey, 76.8% of whom were the parent. Results: Among the 700 caregiver respondents, 34.6% reported opioids in the home (13.6% active prescriptions, 12.7% leftover medications, 8.3% both). Of those with an active prescription, 66.0% intended to keep any leftover medications for future needs (for the patient, 60.1%; for someone else, 5.9%). Of those with leftover medications, 60.5% retained them for the same reason (for the patient, 51.0%; for someone else, 9.5%). Others kept medications unintentionally, either because they never got around to disposing of them (30.6%), they did not know how to dispose of them properly (15.7%), or it never occurred to them to dispose of the medications (7.5%). Many caregivers were unaware that adolescents commonly misuse opioids (30.0%) and use them to attempt suicide (52.3%), and that opioid use can lead to heroin addiction (38.6%). According to the surveys, 7.1% would give leftover opioid medications to an adolescent to manage pain and 5.9% might do so. Conclusions: Opioids are prevalent in homes in our community, and many parents are unaware of the risks they pose. Study findings can inform strategies to educate parents about opioid risk and encourage and facilitate timely, safe disposal of unused medications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-108
Number of pages6
JournalAcademic Pediatrics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


  • opioids
  • pediatrics
  • practice-based research network


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