In 2017, there were 955 overdose deaths involving opioids in Connecticut — a rate of 27.7 deaths per 100,000 people. That’s about twice as high as the national rate of 14.6 deaths.
As part of its efforts to address this real epidemic, experts from the Governor’s Prevention Partnership (The Partnership), an organization that builds and offers prevention programs that are based on state-of-the-art research and training, recently hosted an information session for UnitedHealthcare employees. The audience showed specific interest in how to help prevent substance abuse in teens, safe storage/disposal of prescription opioids, how to intervene with an identified opioid problem and where to access resources.
“Eighty percent of heroin users said they started with prescription medications,” said Deborah Lake, prevention program manager at the Governor’s Prevention Partnership. “Opioids are risky for anyone, not just those with a history of addiction.”
Deborah explained to employees that opioid use or misuse can create brain changes that lead to addiction. A person who is addicted to opioids develops an overpowering urge or craving, and can experience a loss of control and painful withdrawal symptoms, making it difficult to stop.
Teens can be particularly susceptible to addiction because their brains are still developing, Deborah said.
How does a person spot opioid misuse?
Some of the physical signs and symptoms of opioid misuse include sleepiness or “nodding,” constricted pupils, watery or droopy eyes, nausea and vomiting, slow or slurred speech, dry skin, itching and skin infections, and/or constant flu-like symptoms. Some behavioral signs include sudden mood changes, extreme changes in groups of friends, lying or being deceitful, forgetfulness or clumsiness, and losing interest in personal appearance, activities or sports.
If you see these signs or symptoms, and believe someone is misusing opioids, what can you do?
If a person thinks a loved one — for example, their teen child — is abusing substances like opioids, Deborah said they can get help by calling the Parents Helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE or visiting drugfree.org/get-help.
What can parents do to help keep teens drug-free?
Parents can and should educate themselves about the risks. The Partnership and state agencies have resources available on substance use that are free and easily accessibly at drugfreeCT.org.
Another critical component is communication.
“Talk early and talk often, and emphasize the unique dangers of drug use and experimentation,” Deborah said.
Youth who learn about the risks of drugs at home are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs, Deborah said. Yet according to a national study, only 14 percent of teens said they talked about the misuse or abuse of prescription drugs during the last conversation they had with their parents regarding substance use.
If parents are struggling with how to have these conversations with their teens, The Partnership points to a Parent-Talk Kit from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids that offers advice on how to start the conversation and keep an open dialogue.
What should people do with their medication at home?
“Safeguarding medicine is critically important in helping to avoid it getting in the wrong hands and misused,” Deborah said.
She suggests keeping prescription medicine in a secure place, counting and monitoring the number of pills you have, and locking them up so they aren’t easily accessible. It’s also important to ask friends and loved ones to do the same with their meds.
There are also safe ways to dispose of medications, Deborah said, which does not include flushing them down the toilet.
If you google “drug disposals near me” it will pull up a list of locations where old drugs can be taken and disposed of, or you can look up locations via the Department of Consumer Protection.
What is narcan/naloxone and where can it be obtained?
First, it’s critical to note that emergency protocol for any suspected overdose includes calling 911. However, in the case of opioids, naloxone (also known by the brand name Narcan) can reverse an overdose and potentially save a person’s life.
Some independent drugstores, Walgreen’s, CVS, Rite Aid, Target and Wal-Mart are providing naloxone in many states through their pharmacies without requiring a prescription.
For more information on opioids, please visit The Governor’s Prevention Partnership or UnitedHealthcare’s opioids hub.