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Advancing the conversation about prescription opioid misuse and abuse

The opioid epidemic is a community problem, but our communities are also the solution. Fortunately, tools are available to help prevent addiction before it starts and offer hope and recovery to those already suffering. 

Sam Vitiello

We have all seen the statistics and heard heartbreaking stories about the opioid abuse epidemic and the tragic loss of lives young and old. Too many times, the sad turn toward addiction begins with a prescription for pain medication. In 2016 alone, prescription opioids killed 186 Minnesotans.

House of Charity (HOC) serves single adults in the Twin Cities with the mission to feed, house and empower those experiencing homelessness and people affected by the opioid epidemic. According to a 2015 Wilder Research Study, 21 percent of homeless adults have been diagnosed with alcohol and substance use disorders.

The opioid abuse epidemic is hitting the homeless and hundreds of others across the state. This is a public health and a human crisis affecting all of us, and it needs to become the central conversation in our communities. Fortunately, there are tools available to help prevent addiction before it starts and offer hope and recovery to those already suffering. Together we can ensure they reach everyone who needs them.

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A new collaboration

House of Charity is one partner in a new community collaboration. A new national organization, Allied Against Opioid Abuse (AAOA), has made such community collaboration its mission. The organization serves as a centralized information resource and partners with local groups. Earlier this month, AAOA kicked off its presence here in Minneapolis for an interfaith meeting hosted by the Basilica of St. Mary. House of Charity, as well as other faith-based organizations and community groups from across the city, joined for the event because working together is the only way forward.

Our goals were twofold. First, we wanted to share the work our organizations are doing and to learn from each other, so we can apply new prevention efforts, support successful approaches and better link people to the resources they need.

Second, our community also stepped up to educate about safe storage and disposal of opioid medicines. This is an urgent concern. Of the 2,700 Minnesotans killed by opioids in the last 15 years, 80 percent misused or abused prescription drugs. All too often, their source is a friend or family member. Research suggests over 40 percent of individuals misusing opiates get them for free from someone they know.

For patients who need opioid pain relievers, safeguarding these medicines is an important responsibility. AAOA recommends storing all medicines in a locked cabinet and disposing of any unused portion promptly and properly. Prescription opioids should never be shared or given to anyone.

Disposing of medications

There are a number of locations in our community to drop off unused medications, and several new options to safely dispose of medications at home. For instance, there are disposal bags and solutions to mix in your pill bottle that deactivate opioids so they can be safely thrown away in the regular trash. The group gathering at the Basilica benefited from a demonstration of this technology, which will surely have a positive impact with widespread consumer use. These drug deactivation tools are available online and at local pharmacies.

The opioid epidemic is a community problem, but our communities are also the solution. House of Charity administers a chemical and mental health treatment program as part of our longstanding mental health mission. HOC partners with medical assistant programs and will be offering Narcan trainings to the community to help fight the opioid epidemic. Although we are only beginning to understand the many facets of the opioid issue, we will continue to connect our neighbors with experts, tools, and local resources as we identify them. We welcome any and all to join us or to seek us out for help.

Moreover, Allied Against Opioid Abuse is doing important work educating patients, their family members and caregivers about safe use, storage and disposal of prescription opioids. All of us need to lend a helping hand. If you would like to spread the message, need to find a medication disposal site near you, or want helpful information to keep your family safe, be sure to visit the Allied Against Opioid abuse website.

Sam Vitiello, M.A., is the treatment director at House of Charity. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in social and behavioral science and her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. Her primary focus is working with individuals who experience homelessness and have co-occurring disorders. 


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