Prescription opioid painkiller misuse is a big problem not only in the United States, but in Southwest Missouri as well. Opioids are a family of drugs that include prescription painkillers like hydrocodone or fentanyl, as well as illegal drugs like heroin. The death toll attributed to opioids in the U.S. has quadrupled over the last two decades and each day, 115 Americans die of opioid overdoses. President Trump has declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency, noting that two million Americans suffer from opioid use disorder. The 2018 Missouri Student Survey revealed current misuse of prescription medication by 6th-12th grade Greene County students increased from 3.82% in 2014 to 7.4% in 2018. Greene County youth in 2018 reporting that prescription medications were easy or very easy to access increased substantially from 6th grade to 12th grade, from 14% of 6th graders, to 24% of 8th graders, to 35% of 12th graders. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 4 out of 5 new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers. Greene County has seen a drastic uptick in the presence and use of heroin recently.
Community Partnership of the Ozarks’ prevention efforts are working to address the issue in southwest Missouri. Our goal is to increase public awareness, education, and prevention efforts toward preventing prescription medication misuse in order to save lives. On our Opioid Prevention page, you’ll find information on our educational materials and presentations, safe use, storage, and disposal of medications, and community resources on the issue. It also features a map of locations for permanent medication take back boxes in our 21-county region.
Community Partnership currently has two grants that specifically address opioid-related prevention. The first is the State Opioid Response grant, through which we provide the Generation Rx presentation to youth and adults in our region. The second is the federal CARA grant, through which we offer educational presentations to realtors and veterinarians, opioid overdose and naloxone administration training, community awareness and education campaigns, medication disposal box locations, and other opioid prevention related tasks in Greene County.
What are opioids?
Prescription opioids are a category of commonly-prescribed painkillers. Doctors most often prescribe them to help patients with severe or chronic pain, but opioids can also be prescribed to treat coughs or diarrhea. Prescription opioids are typically in pill form, but can also be liquids or patches, such as codeine cough syrup or fentanyl patches. When taken as directed by a medical professional, they’re relatively safe and can be beneficial. But there is always a risk of addiction. And that risk increases greatly when you misuse prescription painkillers.
What is prescription painkiller misuse?
- Taking prescription medication in a way that was not prescribed, such as taking more than prescribed, combining medication with alcohol or other drugs, or crushing pills into powder to snort or inject them.
- Taking someone else’s prescription medication, even if you’re doing so for the medication’s intended purpose, to ease pain.
- Taking prescription medication for the sole purpose of feeling good or getting high.
Who is at risk for substance use disorder?
People who misuse prescription medication have a greater risk of substance use disorder than people who take them as prescribed – but it’s important to remember that the medication itself is addictive. Even someone who takes opioids as prescribed by a doctor might develop a dependence on the drug. Long-term opioid use often begins when opioids are prescribed to treat acute pain, such as broken bones and surgeries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in most cases prescribed opioids should not be taken for more than three to five days.
When someone who has become physically dependent on a prescription medication stops using it, they will likely experience withdrawal symptoms including restlessness, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, anger, depression, muscle or bone pain, nausea and more. Therefore, the risk of addiction should be weighed against the benefits of the medication and any concerns should be discussed with your doctor.
Common signs of overdose (Call 9-1-1 immediately if you suspect an overdose):
- Unresponsiveness or unconsciousness
- Slow, irregular heartbeat or pulse
- Slow, irregular breathing or no breathing
- Vomiting or gurgling
- Constricted pupils
- Blue or purple lips and/or fingernails
Common signs of drug misuse:
- You’re unable to meet your responsibilities at work, school, or home because of your drug use.
- You’re using drugs under dangerous conditions or taking risks, such as driving while on drugs.
- Your drug use is resulting in legal trouble such as stealing to support a drug use.
- Your drug use is causing problems in your relationships, such as arguments with your partner or family members and loss of friends.
- Shallow or slow breathing
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Change in sleep habits
- Mood swings
- Extreme euphoria
- Abandonment of normal responsibilities
- Decreased motivation
Common signs of drug addiction:
- You’ve built up a drug tolerance, meaning you need more of the drug to experience the same effects.
- You take drugs to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms.
- You’ve stopped participating in activities you once enjoyed.
- You continue to use drugs even when you realize they could be causing problems.
- Your life revolves around drug use.
Learn to recognize the potential signs of drug impairment, and know the proper steps to take if you suspect someone is impaired. This includes Naloxone, a Food and Drug Administration approved medication designed to reverse an opioid overdose while you wait for emergency medical help to arrive.
The Mayo Clinic provides the following information on its website for how to use opioids safely:
How to use opioids safely
The best time to plan for safe use and disposal of opioids is before you start these medications.
If you are taking opioids or talking with your doctor about this treatment option, now is the time to plan for safe use and disposal of these medications. Practicing caution can mean the difference between life and death for you, your loved ones and even your neighbors.
Opioid painkillers are highly addictive. After just five days of prescription opioid use, the likelihood that you’ll develop long-term dependence on these drugs rises steeply — increasing your risk of eventual addiction and overdose. And you don’t need a prescription to be at risk. In fact, most people who misuse prescription painkillers report getting them from a family member or friend. Find out what steps to take to keep you and your loved ones safe.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides the following information regarding safe storage of medications in the home:
About 60,000 young children end up in emergency rooms each year because they got into medicines while an adult wasn’t looking. These emergency visits can be prevented by always putting every medicine up and away and out of children’s reach and sight every time you use it.
Families take medications and vitamins to feel well and to stay well. However, any medication, including those you buy without a prescription, can cause harm if taken in the wrong way or by the wrong person. Practicing safe medication storage, while at home and when on-the-go, can help keep children safe.
The importance of safely disposing of unused and expired medications cannot be understated. Community survey data indicates the majority of medications misused are obtained from a home medicine cabinet, whether it be their home or a friend’s or other relative’s home. There are a number of effective methods to safely dispose of medications, including opioids, so that they don’t end up in the hands of someone who may misuse them.
Training and Presentations
Community Partnership offers a variety of trainings and presentations on various opioid misuse topics. These presentations are available by request and as schedules allow.
For more information regarding our opioid prevention programming, contact Samantha Sherman at firstname.lastname@example.org.