The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform holds a hearing at The Johns Hopkins Hospital to examine the opioid epidemic and the recommendations of President Trump's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun video)

I remember the morning I brought my son home from the hospital, looking at his face and knowing that everything was different now, that my first job in the world is to protect him. As parents, keeping our children safe is second nature: car seats, bicycle helmets, vaccinations against disease.

Like other medical conditions, the disease of addiction can be prevented. There are some risk factors, like genetics, that we can't change. Other factors, like delaying the age of drug and alcohol first use while the adolescent brain is still developing, or limiting access to addictive substances, are factors that we can impact.


Over 21 million Americans suffer from substance use disorders, and 1 in 7 people will struggle with substance use during their lives. In 2016, 63,632 people died of drug overdoses in America — that’s 174 people a day, each and every one of them somebody’s child. Each night, families across America have a newly empty seat at their dinner table.

One important step we can all take to protect our children is to safely dispose of our old and unused prescription medications. An alarming 70 percent of patients reported that their prescription opioids were not stored in secured containers. Whether it’s those pain relievers in the medicine cabinet from last year’s dental procedure or the forgotten bottle of sleeping pills in the night table, prescription drugs can be incredibly dangerous if they fall into the wrong hands.

It takes mere moments to safely dispose of our old and unused medications, but this precaution can have a lifelong impact. This week as you change your clocks for daylight savings time, remember to Spring into Action and dispose of your medications by ordering a free disposal kit from the Addiction Policy Forum, bringing them to a take back program at your local pharmacy or police station, or by mixing your old and unused pills with cat litter or coffee grounds, putting the mixture into a sealed container, and throwing it away. Just as we change our clocks and replace the batteries in our smoke alarms, disposing of our old and unused medications should be a biannual ritual. It's a common-sense step we can all take to help address addiction.

More than 2,000 teenagers in the United States will misuse a prescription drug for the first time today. Help prevent your child from being one of them.

Mark O’Brien

The writer is vice president of state and local affairs at Addiction Policy Forum and chair of Addiction Policy Forum's Maryland chapter.