Actions Families Can Take Regarding the Opioid Epidemic

In 2016, 33,000 people lost their lives to opioids. Dependence on opioids (heroin and prescription painkillers) has more than tripled during the last 10 years, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Opioid use has become so widespread that a growing number of high schools across the country are stocking Naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote. Unfortunately, as the numbers of opioid users increases, more and more drugs are being offered on the street. For example, a new combination of opioids, known as “Gray Death,” is much more potent than heroin. The combination includes heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil and a synthetic opioid called U-47700.

With all these scary statistics, what should families do? The 2017 National Rx and Heroin Abuse Summit in Atlanta suggested these actions that families can take:

Use Medications According to Guidelines

One of the best things families can do in the face of the opioid epidemic is to use all prescription painkillers properly. That means using them exactly as the doctor prescribed and not sharing them with anyone else. Many people keep unused prescription painkillers and then offer them to family or friends who have an injury or acute pain. While this might seem like a nice thing to do, we are role modeling negative behaviors to our youth. Two-thirds of teens who report abuse of prescription medicine are getting them from friends, family and acquaintances.

Dispose Unused Medications Properly

Do not keep unused prescriptions, but also make sure you get rid of them in a safe way. Flushing unused medications down the toilet contaminates our water system. Throwing them in the trash means that other people can easily retrieve them. (To help prevent unauthorized refills, be sure to remove any personal, identifiable information from prescription bottles or pill packages before you throw them away.)

The best idea is to participate in a safe drug disposal program. Many pharmacies offer medication take-back services. Additionally, some communities offer special days to drop-off unused medications. You can contact your local government to see what options are available in your area.

Lock Up Your Medications

Experts say that the majority of people who abuse prescriptions get them from family and friends, not a drug dealer, and that you should approach securing your prescriptions the same way you would other valuables, such as jewelry or cash. Keep all medicines in a safe, locked place so that no one – not your teen or your teen’s friend visiting or a guest in your home – can’t raid your medicine cabinet.Also, if your teen has been prescribed a medicine, be sure you control the medicine and monitor dosages.

Ask Congress to Fund Research

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) are working on a heroin vaccine, a fentanyl vaccine, more powerful antidotes for overdoses, a device that would recognize that a person is overdosing and send out an alert, and many alternatives to opioids for pain management. This research needs continued funding. Families can reach out to their Representatives and Senators to request their support for more funding for NIDA and NIH.

Encourage Addicts to Use Anti-Craving Medications

If you have a loved one who is struggling with heroin or prescriptions painkillers, encourage them to consider anti-craving medications. These medications – such as Suboxone, Methadone and Vivitrol – reduce drug cravings, the risk of relapse and overdose, as well as other health-related risks like Hepatitis C and HIV. Many people worry that using these medications simply trades one addiction for another, but studies suggest otherwise. Experts believe these medications are an important step in an addict’s recovery.

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