Preventing opioid misuse, abuse: A skill we all must learn

The United States is in the midst of an epidemic of opiate addiction and overdose. Overdose deaths from prescription painkillers have more than quadrupled since 1999, and Pennsylvania has a higher overdose rate than most states in the nation. This makes addiction prevention more important than ever.

It is a mission that brought together more than 300 attendees at the Commonwealth Prevention Alliance’s 28th annual conference. The purpose of the event was to disseminate the latest information and research, teach skills to enhance prevention outcomes, and encourage participants to share solutions so we can leverage existing, community-based resources, programs and ideas in a more coordinated manner.

Addiction is a disease, so a big part of the job before us is to reduce the stigma associated with substance abuse disorders. This will encourage those living with the disease to get help and enable us all to have more open, accurate conversations about the risk factors, disease progression and interventions that are most successful.

Prevention professionals, youth program coordinators, educators, healthcare experts and others devoted a week to exploring the topic in depth at this year’s conference. We covered the pharmacological fundamentals of drug abuse. We were updated on the challenges of synthetic opioids, like fentanyl. We probed the relationship between youth trauma and later addiction and even tried stress reduction practices that have been shown to help with addiction.

One of the most important outcomes of the event was the energy we built. There is a substantial research foundation and various evidence-based methodologies in the prevention field, but professionals also need the active support of everyone in their communities to help turn the tide of opioid and other drug addictions.

For example, many of the opioids falling into the hands of young people, those already suffering from substance disorders and others in our community are coming from our own medicine cabinets.

Appropriately storing and disposing of prescription painkillers is a contribution everyone can make to help stop the opioid crisis in its tracks.

Providing straightforward information like this is what the Commonwealth Prevention Alliance’s PA Stop initiative is all about. Our Stop Opiate Abuse Campaign is providing resources and funding to help local groups increase prevention through community-based action.

We have found that this effort aligns with the goals of Allied Against Opioid Abuse, a new national organization that, along with several state agencies, helped sponsor this year’s conference. We were glad to have their support particularly so they can keep the conversations we started here in Pennsylvania going on a statewide level across the country.

Addiction prevention saves lives, protects families and ensures individuals have the opportunity to reach their full potential. It is a necessary skill in today’s society.

We all need to be informed consumers, who feel empowered to ask their doctors about the pain medicines they may be prescribed. And we need to understand how substance abuse disorders work, including how to avoid them and how to get help.

Fye is the president of the Commonwealth Prevention Alliance.