Intended for healthcare professionals


Only half of patients store methadone in safe place

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 07 December 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:1481
  1. Lynn Calman,
  2. Emily Finch,
  3. Beverley Powis,
  4. John Strang
  1. Postgraduate degree nursing student on placement Clinical lecturer Research psychologist Professor of the addictions National Addiction Centre, Maudsley Hospital/Institute of Psychiatry, London SE5 8AF

    EDITOR,—The value of oral methadone maintenance programmes in opiate dependence has now been established,1 but supplies of methadone given to patients to take home pose risks of overdose to adults and children who inadvertently drink the linctus.2 3 Altogether 36% of prescriptions for methadone are reportedly dispensed in weekly instalments,4 yet no information is available on the adequacy of the storage of take home supplies. We report on the domestic storage arrangements of 87 patients who were dependent on opiates and receiving prescribed take home supplies of methadone.

    Forty patients had current parental responsibility for at least one child under the age of 12. Current parental responsibility was commoner among the women (16/27 (59%)) than the men (24/60 (40%)) (2 = 2.06, P<0.05). Methadone supplies were stored in a wide variety of locations: in a cupboard or wardrobe (32 patients), fridge (7), or drawer (6) or by the bed (12). We considered 43 to be storing their methadone safely. Safe storage was commoner among those with children at home (75% v 28%, P<0.001; table 1). Nevertheless, 18 reported leaving methadone lying around the home, including five with current parental responsibility. Women were more likely to store their methadone safely (17/27 (63%) v 26/60 (43%)), although, among those with parental responsibility, three quarters of both men and women stored their methadone safely.

    Table 1

    Storage of methadone by patients with and without children at home. Figures are numbers (percent-ages) except where stated otherwise

    View this table:

    Greater precautions were taken in storing illicit drugs: of the 68 still using illicit drugs, 51 stored them safely. As with methadone, safe storage was commoner among those with current parental responsibility (90% v 63%, P<0.05; table 1).

    Widespread reliance on weekly take home supplies of methadone4 increases the risks of inadvertent overdose by children and others. A substantial minority of patients do not take adequate safeguards over the security of drugs in the home. The greater precautions taken with illicit drugs may indicate a failure to appreciate the equivalent risk of overdose associated with prescribed supplies. The lack of attention to this important issue is disturbing. Counselling on this danger should become routine when take home supplies of methadone are prescribed.


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