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"Keeping it in your medicine cabinet... for another day is also a misuse of medication."

Rebecca Smith

Jeff Horwitz is the CEO of Stop the Addiction Fatality Epidemic Project, or SAFE, a national organization working to end overdose deaths. He spoke a little about how the safe storage – and timely disposal – of prescription medications at home can protect families.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words.

Jeff Horwitz: People believe that it's better to keep stuff, keep medication in their medicine cabinet, not necessarily because they're hoarders, but they just want to keep it there.

And what we do know is about 70% of Americans keep drugs in their medicine cabinet. We know about 90% of prescribed medications are not used.

When you survey teenagers, what you'll find is that about 50%, or more of 12th graders have experimented with some level of medication, and they believe that going into the family's medicine cabinet and taking a prescription drug is the safest place to go.

And they will tell you that the number one place for pharmaceutical drugs that they go to is the home medicine cabinet.

So, we know that the mindset is, “If my parents are modeling the behavior that it's okay to have it there and it's been prescribed by a physician – it must be safe for me to try.”

What they are not necessarily aware of at the time is that some medications are addictive, some medications create greater risks, and none of those medications that are prescribed were prescribed for that particular purpose.

In the fourth installment of The Weight of Evidence, we hear about drug disposal options for law enforcement and everyday people – and the challenges that can come with it.

And so, as a result, we know that one of the direct pathways for individuals into addiction – at the youth and young adult level – is the family's medicine cabinet, and so, the goal really is not just to keep it safe if you have it, but also to dispose of it at the time being.

And this is at a time when quite frankly, opioids [are] probably the largest thing that's in the medicine cabinet right now.

An individual believes that if they had a serious back problem, they believe they couldn't get it from a physician if they needed something to take care of their pain? I think with the over-prescription [of opioids] that seems a little crazy.

But what's more strange about that – is that parents will say, “No, no, my children and my kids will never use it. No one will misuse the medication,” but the sheer fact that you're keeping it in your medicine cabinet and using it for another day is also a misuse of medication.

Our public awareness campaign is really very simple. It's called our “No Shame Pledge,” and our “No Shame Pledge” has four components to it.

The first one is I understand that addiction is a disease – pretty simple.

The second thing is that I am willing to learn the factors that might lead to addictive behavior, whether that's mental health challenges, or whether that's actual experimentation or prescription for three days to five daysof an opioid.

The third factor is if I know someone who needs treatment, I'll help them find a treatment facility.

And the fourth thing is that recovery is a lifetime journey, and if I know someone in recovery – I'll support them.

Anna Spidel is a health reporter for the KBIA Health & Wealth desk. A proud Michigander, Anna hails from Dexter, Michigan and received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Michigan State University in 2022. Previously, she worked with member station Michigan Radio as an assistant producer on Stateside.
Rebecca Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth Desk. Born and raised outside of Rolla, Missouri, she has a passion for diving into often overlooked issues that affect the rural populations of her state – especially stories that broaden people’s perception of “rural” life.