Opioid Education

Last updated on April 13, 2021

Recent research shows that patients who receive education and counseling about the importance of safe disposal of opioid medications are associated with a higher likelihood of the patient properly disposing of their unused medications. That peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Pain Research also found “a clear need to increase patient awareness about the importance and methods of proper medication disposal, and a great opportunity for health care providers to increase patient education efforts.”  

One healthcare provider (and Sharps Compliance partner), Intermountain Healthcare, began a successful education initiative targeted towards the company’s patients and providers in 2017. Its aim is to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions given to patients. This effort is in addition to Intermountain’s partnership with the Utah Department of Health and other community partners – the Use Only as Directed campaign – that began in 2015.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also working to raise awareness about safe opioid disposal.

FDA Launches “Remove the Risk” Campaign

In April 2019, the FDA announced an education campaign primarily targeted towards women age 35-64 because they’re generally the primary healthcare decision makers in the home, and often “serve as gatekeepers to opioids and other prescription medications.” The presence of opioids in the home can increase the danger of abuse. As many as 92% of people don’t take their entire prescription of painkillers and keep them “just in case” they need them later, without realizing the dangers they pose.

SAMHSA graph

Both the EPA and FDA encourage ultimate users to utilize drug takeback programs/mailers and permanent collection sites in their communities in order to dispose of drugs in the safest way possible. Sharps Compliance offers both.

  • TakeAway Medication Recovery System envelopes come with prepaid USPS mailing labels for DEA-compliant disposal of Schedules II-V drugs and non-controlled medications.
  • Over 3,100 MedSafe Medication Disposal kiosks allow ultimate users to safely dispose of controlled (Schedules II-V) and non-controlled medications in convenient public locations, such as retail pharmacies and hospitals.

Intermountain Healthcare: Educating Providers and Patients

While the FDA education campaign is directed towards ultimate users, Intermountain Healthcare is working with the Utah Department of Health and others on the “Use Only as Directed” campaign. That project encourages community members to talk with their physicians about opioids and alternative methods of pain management.

With this approach, opioid abuse education and prevention can begin even before patients fill their prescriptions.

In 2018, Intermountain “made opioid reduction a top priority” within the organization. In a recent interview with Sharps Compliance, Dr. David Hasleton, Senior Medical Director at Intermountain Healthcare, explained how the effort focuses on education:

“Engaging in conversations about opioid use with our patients has been an important element of our opioid misuse reduction efforts. We hear a broad array of responses from patients during these conversations. While many patients express awareness about the potential dangers of opioids, other patients benefit from additional education on appropriate opioid and proper disposal.

As we discuss alternatives to opioids including exercise, physical therapy, alternative medications, and other interventions, our physicians have noticed the importance of approaching conversations with sensitivity, understanding that our patients experience pain physically and emotionally. Patients may be aware of the U.S. opioid epidemic while some may not realize that we all can and should take steps to limit or opt out of opioid use where possible and properly dispose of unused opioids. Conversations between patients and their physicians can help promote this understanding.”

The campaign has been a success. It helped reduce the number of opioid tablets prescribed by 3.8 million in 2018, a 30% reduction over the prior year. This was slightly less than the goal of 40%, but a tremendous step forward nonetheless, Hasleton told Sharps. “We have extended our focus on opioid reduction through 2019 as we continue to strive to have a positive impact on opioid reduction this year.”

Patients who fill opioid prescriptions receive information about safe disposal options. The project’s website includes a drop box locator where ultimate users can search by ZIP code to find the nearest MedSafe medication disposal kiosk near them. Over 100 MedSafe kiosks are available throughout Utah.

Sharps Compliance is committed to helping fight the opioid crisis. Our MedSafe and TakeAway systems support safe, sustainable drug disposal that helps protect both the public and the environment.


Kathryn earned her Masters in Public Health with a concentration in Epidemiology from Texas A&M University and her Bachelor of Science from the University of Texas. She is certified in high-complexity testing by the ASCP and has been published in the journal Cancer Cytopathology. Her experience ranges from the clinical laboratory to compliance expertise in biohazardous waste management.

published in Medication DisposalTagged