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Why Opioid Packaging Matters

Since 1990, the opioid crisis has only been worsening, with more overdose deaths recorded in 2020 than ever before. As a means to mitigate unnecessary exposure and the negative impacts on at-risk individuals, the Food and Drug Administration released a statement in 2019 regulating certain packaging features. These regulations include labeling changes to inform treatment recipients of the availability of naloxone, the proper disposal of unused opioids, and more.

Joining the FDA, both the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued their own guidelines on the prescription, handling, storage, and disposal of the treatments in order to ensure that medication safety is as universally recognized and enforced as possible. As mentioned, a key place to begin in safely handling controlled substances is in their bottling and enclosures.

As with any strong design, the process of establishing a bottle and closure of an opioid treatment must be done with the end user in mind. The FDA recommends in its conceptual approach that a packaging manufacturer analyze the consumers’ behaviors, use that analysis to inform the design, test that design, and use the data from the test to continually reshape the efficacy of the treatment’s bottle and closure.

However, the balance of user-friendliness and user-unfriendliness requires close consideration. Opioid treatments are among the most effective and powerful pain treatments available, but millions of Americans also struggle with their high addictiveness. Bottles and caps must be easily used by individuals with chronic pain — a leading factor in opioid prescription — but they must simultaneously include barriers that decrease ease of access in order to discourage recreational use.

Some of the design options set forth in the FDA proposal to make containers safer include locking caps and Bluetooth features that report cap or blister openings; these features would ideally keep a more targeted and complete eye on the amount of medicine consumed. While some of these technological instruments may be aspirational, the presence of a lock, a childproofed cap, or a limited quantity of pills per package can help slow access to a drug without fully impeding the treatment’s intended use. Tamper-resistant designs also prevent young people from opening and ingesting opioids unsupervised, and clearly marked labels help dispel confusion and make it easier to see clearly what medication a bottle contains.

The design features present on a medicine bottle are integral to maintaining the safety of the prescriber, the patient, and anyone who comes in close contact with the drug. To support this, Med Supply Lab is always focused on producing and packaging opioids responsibly so that our clients — and our clients’ clients — are safe and protected. When care, consideration, and evidence-based practices are imbued into a bottle’s design, each package and manufacturer can create a safer medical environment, especially in cases of opioids and other addictive treatments.