GBPH Blogs, Updates & Stories

Published on Thursday, May 25, 2023

Tips for safe prescription opioid use, disposal

By Kelsey Walter, Public Health Nurse

Grey Bruce Health Unit


Almost 13% of Canadians say they’ve used opioid pain relievers within the past year, according to the latest Statistics Canada data.

That includes just over one million Canadian seniors, aged 60 and older, the data shows.1

The vast majority of people who used opioids – about 97% – were prescribed the medication and used them as intended, according to a July 2020 report by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.2

Opioids are primarily used to relieve pain, but they can also produce feelings of euphoria, which can make them prone to harmful use. Opioids are depressant drugs that slow down the part of the brain that controls breathing.

Common opioids include hydromorphone, morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl, and codeine.

Grey Bruce Public Health is a proponent of harm reduction, a set of person-centered, evidence-based strategies aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use.

One example of harm reduction is the proper handling, administration, storage, and disposal of prescribed medications.

Prescribed opioids have the potential to cause harm, especially as people age. Increased age can lead to slower metabolism, causing medications to remain in the body longer. Fluctuations in body weight can also lower drug tolerance, resulting in increased sensitivity to a substance and its effects. Due to these physiological changes, an older adult may require less of a substance to get the same effect as younger adults.

It’s also important to be aware of potential interactions between substances, as some can prove harmful, such as mixing opioids with alcohol or mixing some substances with certain natural medications.

It’s important to talk to your healthcare professional about all of the medications you are taking to avoid potentially negative interactions.


  • Keep opioids in their original packaging. Store them in a dark, dry area and inside a locked container out of children’s reach.
  • Unneeded or expired medication should be taken to a pharmacy for disposal as soon as possible.
  • Read all instructions thoroughly and if unsure, ask your healthcare professional.
  • Recognize the side effects of the medication.
  • Only take the prescribed dose to prevent adverse reactions and complications. Taking too much of an opioid can put one at risk for negative side effects, such as excessive sleepiness, cognitive impairment, slurred speech, and decreased level of breathing. It can also lead to an accidental overdose, which is why it’s important to always have naloxone available. Naloxone is a life-saving, fast-acting medication that temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. Naloxone kits and training are available for free at most pharmacies and via Grey Bruce Public Health.



1 – Statistics Canada, Significant factors associated with problematic use of opioid pain relief medications among the household population, Canada, 2018

2 – CCSA Canadian Drug Summary, July 2020, Prescription Opioids.

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