I recently chucked the bottle of oxycodone pills I was given about a month ago, after leaving Glens Falls Hospital, where I got a hip replacement. The bottle held 60 pills, and I took one the first night I was home. The other 59 are in the trash. A lot has been said about the way the opioid epidemic has spread by people getting hooked through legitimate prescriptions, but I wonder, too, about the waste.
I'm guessing that a lot of people who get joint replacements and other surgeries for which they're sent home with opioid painkillers take only a handful of the pills, if that, and throw the rest away. Some people need as many as 60 pills, I imagine. The label on the bottle said I could take one pill every four hours, up to a maximum of six a day, a recommendation I find terrifying. Perhaps I'm sensitive to drugs, but unless I were in agony, I cannot imagine taking 4-6 oxycodone pills a day.
So how many painkillers are getting tossed nationwide every year? It must be a lot. I wonder whether the prescription could be written for 30 pills, with a single refill, to reduce the waste. Or whether a patient's pain level could be evaluated before leaving the hospital and the strength of the prescribed painkiller and number of pills varied based on this self-evaluation?
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Part of what is going on, I think, is the surgical procedures and care have been improved to such an extent that patients barely spend any time in the hospital now and get released when everything still hurts a lot. My mom had a hip replacement about a decade ago, and she spent about five days in the hospital, followed by a few days in a nursing home for rehab. So her progress and her pain level were being monitored during that time, and she probably wasn't sent home with a big bottle of opioid pills.
Maybe patients like me should be sent home with enough strong pain pills for a few days, then re-evaluated in a follow-up appointment. Although I had excellent care at the hospital and expert physical therapy sessions that started right away, I was surprised at how long it was (three weeks maybe?) before I was called back to the surgical center to be checked on and how quick that check was. If you're not in pain and healing well, I guess there isn't much to say or do about it.
I've strayed from the point, which is the big bottles of pain pills that are getting thrown away all the time, all across the country. It seems like something could be done to cut down on this waste.
Editor's Note: It has been pointed out to me that throwing your pills in the trash isn't the best way to dispose of them, because they might end up in the environment. You can turn them in at some local police agencies, which is what I intend to do, after fishing the bottle out of the trash, and some pharmacies are drop-off sites, too. Go to dea.gov to find your nearest pharmacy drop-off site.
Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at email@example.com and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at