The role of the Poison Control Center (PCC) in drug education may not be obvious. However, the PCC fields more than 65,000 emergency calls every year through a 24/7 resource line staffed by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) nurses, pharmacists and medical toxicologists. This frontline position often makes the PCC an early warning detector for emerging public health concerns, such as the opioid epidemic’s impact on children and teens.

Stark statistics

A recent Pennsylvania Youth Survey found that nearly 50% of Philadelphia teenagers who have abused opioids got the medication from their own homes. Many difficult cases handled by the PCC are the result of teens having easy access to dangerous medicines. The team also regularly receives calls from terrified caregivers whose toddlers have been accidently exposed to unsecured opioids. In response to these daily occurrences, the PCC staff knew they needed to take action.

The plan is simple: Teach people how easy it is to safely dispose of unused prescription opioids. By focusing on safe and convenient medication disposal, PCC staff hopes to decrease access to prescription opioids by toddlers and teens.

One small step toward a solution

Poison Control Center information card One step to fighting the opioid epidemic is to safely destroy leftover prescription medications. The Poison Control Center created these information cards to be given to families. The CHOP Cares Community Fund and Grant Program offered the perfect opportunity for the PCC to pilot a safe disposal program. CHOP Cares grants are awarded to CHOP employees who have ideas for health-related community projects. This grant will allow the PCC to purchase 3,500 packets of DisposeRX®, a powder that deactivates medication by turning pills into gel.

The PCC will distribute these packets in collaboration with a local chain pharmacy passionate about community education. Pharmacists will distribute a packet of DisposeRX® and administer a survey each time they fill an opioid prescription. These survey results will help the PCC learn more about pharmacist and patient behaviors and preferences regarding safe medication disposal.

“We want families to understand that there are convenient ways to safely dispose of the medicine they don’t use, right when their prescription is filled,” says Lauren Longo, PCC public relations and health education specialist.

An enterprise-wide effort

The safe medication disposal program is just the beginning. The Comprehensive Opioid Response and Education Program (CORE), a new CHOP initiative that originated at the PCC, is dedicated to preventing opioid-related injury and death in the hospital, the home and the community.

Spearheaded by Amy Gallagher, PharmD, VP Operations at CHOP, and Jeanette Trella, PharmD, BCPPS, Director of the Poison Control Center, CORE will ultimately be comprised of three task forces, each tackling a critical aspect of the opioid epidemic.

“We are currently challenging ourselves to become national leaders by taking a multifaceted approach to tackling the opioid epidemic. The principle of family-centered care is guiding our strategy,” says Dr. Trella.

This approach will include prioritizing increased recognition and treatment of adolescents with substance use disorder, as well as identifying young children at risk of experiencing trauma through substance use disorder in the home, and connecting them to appropriate resources.

By partnering with community-based and governmental agencies over the next two years, CHOP intends to better serve all families impacted by substance use disorder.

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