Preventing prescription opioid abuse

Proper use, storage and disposal of prescription pain medication are key to preventing misuse and potential overdose from opioids.

Using prescription opioids safely

While prescription opioids can effectively and safely reduce pain, they can also have serious adverse effects, including risk of addiction and overdose.

The WA State Department of Health Take as Directed website has useful information and resources on safe prescription opioid use for:

  • health care providers
  • pain patients
  • older adults
  • parents and teensScreenshot of factsheet cover

The CDC factsheet Prescription Opioids: What You Need to Know describes the risks and side effects of opioid medications and other options for managing pain.

The Washington Poison Center’s Medicine Safety Guide tells how to protect yourself and your family members from prescription medication poisonings.

Download the Safe Use of Prescription Pain Medication patient education flyer.


Opioid prescribing in WA State

Cover of guidelines publication

The Agency Medical Directors’ Group develops guidelines for medical providers caring for patients of state agency programs in WA State. The AMDG 2015 Interagency Guideline on Prescribing Opioids for Pain recommends best practices for opioid-based and non-opioid pain management to improve care of patients with chronic pain and to reduce their risk of addiction and overdose.

The WA State Department of Health Prescription Monitoring Program (sometimes called Prescription Review) is a centralized online database that holds controlled substance prescription information for all patients across the state.

Prescribers and pharmacists are able to review a patients’ prescription history information before they prescribe or dispense drugs. This allows them to look for duplicate prescribing, possible misuse, drug interactions and other potential concerns.

More information and factsheets on program rules, registration, use, and reports are available on the Prescription Monitoring Program website.

Other resources:

CDC logoThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain provides recommendations for prescribing opioid pain medication for patients 18 and older in primary care settings. It includes guidelines on determining when to initiate or continue opioids; opioid selection, dosage, duration, follow-up, and discontinuation; and assessing risk and addressing harms of opioid use.

Prescribe to prevent logoPrescribe to Prevent provides information for prescribers, pharmacists, and other health care professionals on prescribing and dispensing naloxone, the medication to reverse an opioid overdose.


Photo of a medication lockbox by LockMedStoring prescription opioids

YOU are the only one who should have access to your prescription pain medication. To keep prescription opioids away from children, youth and other adults in your home:

  • Don’t leave opioid medications where children or visitors can easily see them such as counter tops, tables, or nightstands. Never store prescription pain medicine in a bathroom medicine cabinet.
  • Don’t keep loose pills in a purse, backpack, or unlocked drawer.
  • Lock your medication in a drawer, special medication lock box or lockable tool or tackle box. Hide the key away from the storage area.
  • Keep a count of your opioid pills so you will know if any go missing.
  • Always dispose of any medication you no longer need.


Disposing of prescription opioids

To protect the environment, never flush medications in the toilet.

It is best to return unwanted medications to a safe disposal take-back program. Many police departments and pharmacies across WA State sponsor medication take-back programs:

WA State Medicine Take Back Locations

King County Secure Medicine Return

Walgreens Pharmacy Safe Disposal Locations

If you can’t access an official disposal site, this is a “last resort” method to throw medications in the garbage:

  • Keep the medicine in its original childproof and watertight bottle.
  • To deter any use, add some kitty litter or coffee grounds to the bottle and tape the bottle shut.
  • Place the bottle in a sealable bag, and then inside in a non-clear container so the contents cannot be seen.
  • Put the container in the garbage, not in the recycling bin.

To learn more about safe storage and disposal of medicines:


Prescription stewardship in WA State

Washington State’s pharmaceutical stewardship law, HB 1047, creates a program to fund the safe disposal of medications in the state. Drug manufacturers who sell medicines for residential use will be required to fund and operate secure medicine drop-off locations at pharmacies and law enforcement offices throughout the county.

To learn more check out the Department of Health’s Drug Take-Back Program page.

Some counties in Washington State have already enacted “prescription stewardship” programs to collect and safely dispose of unwanted medicines. Prescription stewardship programs have been approved in the following counties:

King County

Snohomish County


Prevention for youth

For more information about preventing prescription drug abuse among youth:

Medicine Abuse Project logoThe MedicineAbuseProject is a national campaign to prevent teens from abusing medicines. Includes information about prevention of prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse, safeguarding medicines at home, and education resources for parents, teachers, health care providers and community coalitions. Sponsored by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing teen substance abuse and supporting families impacted by addiction.

Athena logoThe Athena Forum is an information portal for WA State substance use prevention professionals. It contains best practices, materials, tools, training opportunities and online discussions, including resources on prescription drug abuse prevention. This site is also the place to go for information about state initiatives and the Community Prevention and Wellness Initiative (CPWI).

NIDA for Teens logoNIDA for Teens is sponsored by the National Institute of Drug Abuse to educate adolescents ages 11 through 15 on the science behind drug abuse. Features many videos and games, and a drugs & health blog. There are also a section for teachers, featuring lesson plans and activities, as well as one for parents that advice on how to talk to kids about drugs.

Safety First logoSafety First – a Reality Based Approach to Teens and Drugs, from the Drug Policy Alliance, helps parents evaluate strategies and take a pragmatic approach to protecting their teenagers from drug abuse.