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Advancing the conversation about prescription opioid misuse and abuse

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.

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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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by jennifer bale on 03/24/2019 - 01:03 pm.

    As a pain sufferer, I see a few discrepancies in this article. First it should be mentioned that most of the overdoses come from the street or the “pressed pills.” These are the pills pressed with lethal fentanyl usually NOT the script that is taken home from a back surgery. Second, who is the 40% who “gets them from someone they know.” Usually when someone gets pain meds they do not give even one away! I suffer from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and receive pain meds on a regular basis from my Dr. I take my meds as I need them and they allow me to; exercise, work, cook, and do activities outside! Be specific in your article! It’s people like me that are punished because of articles like this! DONT PUNISH PAIN! There are people out there who need meds. Unfortunately our options are few! I for one cannot take ibuprofen due to my warfarin because of the blood clot in my brain. Please be mindful of those who need them!

  2. Submitted by Laura Voytal on 03/24/2019 - 03:02 pm.

    This lady is ridiculous. Doesn’t mention people like me who have to depend on them for any quality of life! My hypermobility elhers danlos syndrome has no cure!!! It is on of the most painful conditions known to humankind. This so called opiate crisis has devastated patients like me. The people abusing these medications are the people you would never expect. They are your family, Co workers and friends. It would be a wonderful thing to include opiate drug screening for all jobs in this country. Talk about the panic that would ensue! Not to mention the thousands of new job openings.

  3. Submitted by jennifer bale on 04/11/2019 - 10:44 pm.

    Laura,
    I suffer with EDS as well, and it is very very hard to live with. I showed this article to my worldwide EDS group along with my chronic pain group. needless to say they were disappointed in the article. What the author left out was the fact she is in recovery. She really shouldn’t be posting so one sided on this subject. She Is speaking subjectively, and has no idea what it’s like to feel the way we do.

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