In an ongoing effort to help the local community confront opioid addiction, the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy (DKICP) at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo will receive funding for the next year to hold educational events and offer simple alternatives to dispose of unused medications.

Unused medications in households and at patient care facilities expose residents to potential harm due to mistaken ingestion and increase the potential for theft and assault.

On an annual basis nationally, more than 71,000 children under the age of 19 are admitted to emergency rooms for unintentional overdoses of prescription and over the counter drugs. The problem can add to drug abuse in young adults aged 18–25 (5.9 percent) while 3 percent of teens (12–17 years) have the second highest rate. So called “pharm parties,” social gatherings where prescription drugs are consumed with alcohol have gained popularity in recent years among both age groups.

“Since 2012, DKICP has been involved in annual events that promote medication return,” Dean Carolyn Ma said. “At our 2018 fall health fair in Hilo, we collected 34 pounds of medication with the Hawaiʻi State Narcotics Enforcement Division in their take-back program, and this initiative will give us more opportunities to offer that option to Hawaiʻi residents.”

Dangers of unused prescription drugs

Ma emphasized that many people don’t realize that unused drugs in their medicine cabinet, especially those with addictive qualities, can lead to accidental overdoses or intentional misuse by anyone with access.

“How to dispose of unused medications in a responsible manner to our ʻāina in a safe way has become a common question. This funding will help us expand our ability to educate our community and highlight our expertise,” she added.

The Opioid and Medication Education and Disposal project has been designed to fit local communities on Hawaiʻi Island, Kauaʻi, Maui and Oʻahu. Goals are to educate the public on why it’s important to safely dispose unused medications and show options on how to do that, said Ma, who is the principal investigator on the grant, which was awarded through a competitive grant process.

In addition to attending health fairs throughout the four counties, DKICP student pharmacists will visit senior centers, including City and County senior day care centers, to distribute educational materials and teach the seniors to use their Dispose Rx destruction packets. NED agents will also hold take back events.

The program is funded through a $25,000 grant by the AmerisourceBergen Foundation, the not-for-profit charitable giving arm of AmerisourceBergen, and through the Foundation’s Opioid Resource Grant Program, which enables the foundation to support and advance ideas from innovative nonprofits, at the local and national level, to fight against opioid misuse.

For details on the Opioid and Medication Education and Disposal project and Dispose Rx destruction packets, go to the news release.