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Upstate Outpatient Pharmacy to offer locking prescription bottles for patients discharged with some medications

Outpatient Pharmacy showing locking pill bottle.

In an effort to help combat the opioid epidemic and unintentional overdose by children and teens, the Upstate Medical University Outpatient Pharmacy is introducing a new system to provide locking prescription bottles for controlled substances ordered for patients at discharge.

The pharmacy will debut the bottles from Safe RX on Dec. 19 for pediatric patients who are discharged with a controlled substance. The Safe RX vial is a locking pill bottle that has a unique security code that will be programmed prior to dispensing for each patient.

Safe RX is a company that was started by a practicing physician to provide a simple, cost-effective solution to the problem of unauthorized access to prescription opioids. More than 11 million Americans used or misused opioids in the last year and patients with a history of using opioid pain relievers for non-medical reasons have a higher rate of heroin use. Drug overdose or poisoning is also one of the leading causes of unintentional death in children and adolescents. 

“With the opioid epidemic continuing to be a problem within our community and the chance of accidental overdose high for these therapies, the pharmacy is taking a proactive approach to provide for a safer delivery system,” said Eric Balotin, Upstate’s director of Retail/Specialty Pharmacy. “It is the right thing to do for our community.”

The program will be managed by Upstate’s Outpatient Pharmacy with patient and family education being provided by the Discharge Pharmacy Transition Team. 

The locking vials have a small set of numerical dials at the top that can be pre-programmed with a code. If a patient has multiple prescriptions, they can all have the same code. This is intended to prevent unintentional overdose by young children as well as to prevent teenagers or adults from taking the patient’s pills.

“As an institution, we are always looking for ways to decrease potential narcotic access to people who these medications are not intended,” Balotin said.

Balotin said the pharmacy is starting with pediatrics to pilot the program, but the issue of unintentional overdose among all patient populations is a serious one. 

Jeanna Marraffa, assistant clinical director of the Upstate Poison Center, said that pediatric exposures to pharmaceutical products are a preventable cause of injury. Each year, there are more than 900,000 calls annually to poison control centers regarding children less than 6 years of age in the United States.

In 2021, the Upstate New York Poison Center managed 16,522 calls in children less than 6 years of age. Drug overdose/poisoning is one of the leading causes of unintentional deaths in children/adolescents.

“Opioids are the most common cause of fatal poisonings in young children and these cases are on the rise,” Marraffa said. “Despite standard child-resistant medication caps, unintentional exposures continue to occur. The poison center recommends several ways of safe storage of medicines including keeping medicines up and away from children. These RX locking caps provide an additional layer of protection to keep our most vulnerable patients safe.”

Upstate Pediatric Pharmacy Service Line Coordinator Meg Anderson echoed Marraffa’s support of the locking vials.

“As a pharmacist who has worked in pediatrics for 36 years, I am so excited that we are starting a Safe RX Program at Upstate to reduce unintentional overdoses of opioid medications in children,” Anderson said. “This is a valuable program that will increase the safety for the children in our community. This is a huge step that Upstate is taking to address the opioid crisis as it affects our children.

In the case of a poisoning or for information purposes, call the Upstate New York Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. We are open 24/7, 365 days a year. Each year our center manages more than 50,000 calls from health care providers, 911 operators, hospitals, industry, schools, and the general public in our 54-county service area.

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About Upstate New York Poison Center

Housed inside Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY, the Upstate New York Poison Center is dedicated to reducing the number, cost and severity of poisonings within its designated 54-county service area as mandated by New York State Law. The Center is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to both health professionals and the general public at 1-800-222-1222.

About Upstate Medical University

SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY, is the only academic medical center in Central New York. It is also the region's largest employer with 9,460 employees. Affiliated with the State University of New York, Upstate's mission is to improve the health of the community through education, biomedical research and health care.