Angela Conover and Angelo Valente

Education is the key factor in preventing the abuse of opiates

The United States is in the midst of an opioid epidemic – from small towns to big cities, no community has remained untouched by the rapid spread of addiction to prescription opioids and heroin. Parents must take heed. Prescription drug abuse is happening in our homes and in many cases leading to heroin abuse. Unfortunately, no family is immune from this epidemic.

In New Jersey, the battle to reduce opioid abuse and death rates continues. The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey has focused on raising awareness of this epidemic by educating physicians on safer prescribing strategies and the scope of the prescription drug abuse epidemic, as well as educating families about the epidemic and the steps they can take to safe-guard their families and communities.

The efforts to raise awareness and share a prevention message continues

A 2016 Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey study of parents of middle school students found that nearly one in three parents still do not believe there is a link between pain killers prescribed for things like sports injuries or the removal of wisdom teeth and the rising use of heroin in New Jersey.

The study also found that less than 50 percent of parents feel they are knowledgeable about heroin.

Prescription drug abuse, specifically the rise in opioid-related overdose deaths, is considered the fastest growing drug problem in the U nited States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC) . A J anuary 2016 CDC report linked the rise in illicit opioid overdose deaths to the 15-year trajectory of overall rising overdose deaths involving prescription opioid pain relievers.

According to CDC Director Tom Friedman, More than 40 Americans die each day from prescription opioid overdoses, we must act now.”

In New Jersey alone, over 2.75 million prescriptions for highly addictive opioids were potentially prescribed to children, friends, and family members many times without the benefit of any information of their addictive qualities or their link to heroin abuse rates.

The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey set out to address this issue with one key player in the fight against opiate abuse – parents. In March 2016, the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey released a public health campaign entitled, “Before They Prescribe – You Decide”. This campaign is geared on educating parents about the link between prescribed prescription pain medicine and heroin abuse; encouraging and empowering them to speak to their doctor or dentist about the potential addictive qualities of the pain medicine prescribed, as well as possible alternatives that may exist and be appropriate. This public health campaign was unveiled on the 4 2nd St. Digital Cube in Times Square in March 2016 and is also being utilized by community coalitions and substance abuse prevention alliances throughout the United States.

According to the CDC, opioid pain relievers that are abused were most often obtained via prescription from physicians and 4 5% of people who used heroin were also addicted to prescription opioid painkillers. Since 2000, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137% , including a 200% increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids. The federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that in the past year, more than 11 million people aged 12 and above misused opioids- both pain relievers and heroin.

Having a simple conversation about the potential for dependency and possible alternatives will surely save lives. The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey’s Do No Harm Symposium series held in conjunction with local hospitals and the Drug-Enforcement Administration-New J ersey Division, encourages physicians and dentists to embrace safer prescribing by taking such steps as utilizing the Prescription Drug Monitoring system in the state, and having conversations with their patients and their parents about the potential for dependency, and possible alternatives that are available.

Education is the key factor in preventing the abuse of opiates. The most important time for patients and their parents to be educated occurs in the physician’s office when an opiate is being prescribed. The brains of children and teens may be more vulnerable to addiction. According to an article published in 2015 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, use of prescribed opioids before the 12th grade is independently associated with future opioid misuse among patients with little drug experience and who disapprove of illegal drug use.

Prescribers must have these conversations with parents when their child is prescribed an opiate whether by a physician or a dentist. These conversations regarding the potential for dependency of these opioid based drugs when prescribed will give parents the information they need so they can become aware to look for the signs and symptoms of abuse. They also must know the importance of properly securing these medicines when they bring them into their home.

Many parents are still not aware that our youth are abusing prescription drugs and frequently leave unused prescription drugs including prescription opioid based medication in open medicine cabinets. Parents understand the need for making sure they lock their liquor cabinets but because they are not aware of the potential for abuse and dependency of the medicine they or their child is prescribed, they often do not secure their medicine cabinets.

According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, approximately 70% of people who abuse prescription medications get them from family or friends – often from the medicine cabinet; however, the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey 12th Annual Tracking Study of Parent Attitudes and Behavior in Alcohol and Drug Abuse also found that while some parents do know that kids get access to prescription and over-the-counter drugs out of the home medicine cabinets, only 15% considered a friend’s medicine cabinet as a source for the abused drugs.

The American Medicine Chest Challenge, a program of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, encourages all parents to take a 5-Step challenge to safeguard their families. The challenge calls for parents to:

• Take inventory of your prescription and over-the-counte
• Secure the medicine you have in your home.
• Dispose of your unused, unwanted, and expired medicine a
safe and legal location, such as the American Medicine Che
Challenge Disposal site.
• Only take the medicine( s) prescribed to yo
• Talk to your children and physician about the dangers o
prescription drug abuse… they are listening
Education is the key factor in preventing the abuse of opiates both
in the prescriber’s office and in the home.

Angela Conover is the Director of Media and Community Relations
Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey

Angelo M. Valente is the Executive Director Partnership for a Drug-
Free New Jersey and has led this organization in becoming the
largest continuous Public Service Campaign in New Jersey’s history.