According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an alarming 40 percent of opioid misusers have admitted to receiving painkillers from a friend or family member at no cost. Another 12 percent admit to purchasing or stealing prescription drugs from someone they know.
Dramatically reducing this "pass along" rate is one of the primary missions of the national organization, Allied Against Opioid Abuse (AAOA). Just this past month, AAOA convened a training and discussion aimed toward health-care professionals in the heart of the Memphis Medical District. The purpose of the event was to help area organizations share best practices and promote solutions to cut down on the volume of opioids unwittingly made available in our community.
The Shelby County Health Department joined this effort along with representatives from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Memphis Emergency Medical Services. Participants engaged with speakers and learned more about how to protect themselves, their patients, and their communities against opioid misuse and abuse.
The AAOA praised Shelby County for implementing the Count it! Lock it! Drop it! campaign. This campaign is Shelby County's safe storage/disposal initiative to help residents avoid becoming victim to opioid misuse and abuse. Action steps for each person with opioid medication are: Count your pills every two weeks to monitor theft and help ensure medications are taken properly; lock your pills in a safe location where others would not think to look; and drop off expired or unused pills at an approved take-back location.
Opioid misuse and abuse can lead to opioid addiction. The Count It! Lock it! Drop It! campaign is just one of several campaigns Shelby County is implementing to bring awareness and give patients advice on how to take action to reduce this epidemic affecting our communities.
There are other disposal options as well — including placing unused medication in easy-to-use bags or capsules that inactivate opioids and do not pose a hazard for the environment. These materials are available in pharmacies and online. Patients who fill an opioid prescription should consider obtaining one of these simple disposal options so they can be safe stewards of their medications.
The discussion we held needs to be one of many that we convene, not just in Shelby County, but in Tennessee and across the United States. In addition to learning proper safe storage and disposal practice for opioid medications, we need to get the message out among health-care professionals and throughout the community.
Here in Shelby County, we are working with the county government and the health department, as well as the University of Tennessee to respond to the epidemic. At the event last month, I spoke about Shelby County's opioid response which is focusing on four key strategic areas: data usage and integration, prevention and education, treatment and recovery, as well as first response and law enforcement.
Shelby County's Opioid Response Plan makes it evident that we all have a part to play in reducing the impact of the opioid crisis in our communities. "This plan emphasizes the coordination of efforts aimed at prevention/education, effective deployment of first responders, treatment professionals, and law enforcement," says David Stern, a physician and the Vice-Chancellor for Health Affairs for Statewide Initiatives at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
As health-care professionals and public leaders, we have the power to promote a cultural shift in patients' understanding and handling of opioid pain relievers. To maximize the likelihood of a positive impact, the conversation about how to safely take, store, and dispose of prescription medication is necessary. And it will take the involvement of everyone — patients, family members, caregivers, friends, and community leaders. In order to see a decrease in opioid misuse and abuse in Shelby County, every citizen should educate themselves on what do if prescribed opioids.
For more information on this issue and the initiative with AAOA, please visit www.againstopioidabuse.org.
If you are interested in an educational session for your organization, please visit www.shelbytnhealth.com and follow the icon marked Opioid.
Courtney Tipper is a Public Health Coordinator with the Shelby County Health Department.