By Gena Fitzgerald, Director of Family Outreach and Public Awareness
Our S.A.F.E. Project team is often asked, “What can I do to help?”
We are focused on stopping the opioid epidemic together — and there are simple things we all can do that can make a difference for your family, your community, or your campus.
1. First, understand what’s at stake.
- Read about how the crisis got started, and its affect on communities across the country. Here are just a few widely recommended reads:
- “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain”, The New Yorker, by Patrick Radden Keefe. This is a seminal piece of reporting on the family that founded Purdue and developed OxyContin, and pioneered its marketing to doctors across the country.
- “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opioid Epidemic” by Sam Quinones. The book documents how the deadly crisis started, from prescription drugs to heroin and fentanyl.
- “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America” by Beth Macy. It’s an unflinching look at how local communities were affected, and explores the different facets of the epidemic.
- Watch documentaries like NOVA’S “ADDICTION”, a one-hour PBS documentary that looks at the science behind the epidemic. It features the stories of several families, including the Winnefelds.
2. Start at Home:
- Store your prescription medications in their original bottles in a locked cabinet, a hidden location, or a lock box. Traveling? Store it in your locked suitcase. By the way, that also works at home or in a dormitory.
- What’s in the back of your medicine cabinet? You do not need to save prescribed opioids from a previous surgery or accident. Don’t treat today’s back pain with a prescription your doctor gave you after last year’s root canal. Learn how you can safely dispose of them here.
- Don’t share your prescribed medications OR borrow from others.
3. Encourage – and Practice – Safe Prescription Drug Disposal:
- Learn what safe drug disposal looks like, who should be involved in the development of a program, and ways to promote it to community members in this downloadable PDF guide.
4. End the Stigma
- Substance use disorder is a chronic disease, not a moral failing. The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines and classifies addiction as a chronic disorder, a disease affecting important parts of the brain.
- Do you know a family or friend who has a loved one struggling with this disease? Offer compassion and support, not judgment.
- Accept that recovery IS part of the process. Treatment is just the beginning. It takes courage to be in recovery. To understand more about recovery, read this downloadable pamphlet by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- Choose your words carefully. Get to know “Addictionary”, a resource from the Recovery Resource Institute – a leading nonprofit research institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. “Addictionary” can help you choose words that don’t stigmatize those with substance use disorder.
- Reducing stigma around substance use disorder, asking for help, or medication assisted treatment, makes it easier for someone to say they need help seeking treatment.
- Have you done something to reduce stigma on your campus or community? Share your own story with S.A.F.E. Project
5. Talk to Your Prescribers:
- A visit to your doctor or dentist should be a conversation. Understand new medications, especially if they are an opioid. Don’t know what to ask? Visit this link for a list of recommended questions to ask. The FDA also has a printable list to bring with you.
- Accompanying an elderly relative? Talk to THEIR prescribers. Older adults often suffer from chronic pain, and are also at risk for substance abuse disorders – even if it’s unintentional.
- Accompanying your child or teen? Understand what they are prescribed, especially the side effects. Your kids will need your guidance and to understand the benefits of taking medications as prescribed, as well as not sharing with others. Just because your doctor prescribed the drug doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous – especially for someone else.
6. Become a Community Partner or Volunteer:
- Many communities have their own working groups or task force to bring the community together. Consider offering your help – whether you have personal experience or not, communities need help to get their programs off the ground.
- There’s a lot you can do to support your community through local grassroots efforts. Consider becoming a S.A.F.E. Project volunteer in your state or community.
- Check out Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) to see if there’s one near you.
7. Get Trained:
- You can save lives when you are trained on how to use naloxone or Narcan. Many communities now offer free training. Check with your local Department of Health to see if they offer in-person training.
- You can also enter “Narcan training” or “Naloxone training” into any web search bar, and then add your zip code or your county. You will be able to find in-person training near you.