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Talk About Your Medicines Month

Talk About Your Medicines Month

In addition to Breast Cancer Awareness Month and many other ailments, October is also known as "Talk About Your Medicines" month. 

The opioid epidemic is a public health emergency. Last year, Talk About Your Medicines Month was about taking action to prevent opioid misuse and abuse. As the epidemic continues, so are the efforts to combat it. This year, Talk About Your Medicines Month expands the scope to include preventing opioid abuse across the ages - from toddlers to seniors. 

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that are used to reduce pain. They are often prescribed after surgery, injury, or for cancer pain. Despite the serious risks and lack of evidence about the long term effects, in recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the use of prescription opioids for treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain. 

The most common drugs in prescription opioid overdose deaths are Methadone, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, and Fentanyl. According to the CDC, use of the illegal opioid, herorin, has increased across the United States among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels. The CDC as found that some of the greatest increases are found in groups with historically low rates of heroin use: women, privately insured, and people with higher incomes. 

An average of 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. According to Allied Against Opioid Abuse, approximately 53% of people who misused opioids obtained them from a friend or relative for free. Recent government data found that more than two-thirds of patients who undergo surgery do not use all of their painkillers, and few safely store of dispose of them. 

The following drugs should also never be combined with opioids: anti-anxiety medicines (benzodiazepines, such as Xanax and Valium), muscle relaxants (such as, Soma or Flexeril), sleeping pills (such as, Ambien or Lunesta), and other prescription opioids, such as meperidine. 

Preventing Misuse and Abuse of Opioids Across the Ages

Whether you are:

  • A parent of a toddler who is coughing loudly during the night; your own pain medicine is in your handbag/backpack on the backseat of your car or kitchen counter within your child's reach; or
  • Teaching your teen to never take any medicine unless supervised by an adult; or
  • A college student facing deadlines and exams, who thinks that stimulants. ADHD drugs, or a pain reliever for a sports injury are safe, even when you get them from a friend, and not understanding that these medications could possibly be counterfeit and dangerous if not prescribed by a doctor; or
  • An adult with nagging lower back pain or someone who is caring for an older family member who takes 5 or more medicines including an opioid,

Here are resources to help you avoid misuse and abuse of opioid medications: 

Children

According to the Safe Kids Worldwide 2019 report, medicines (including opioids) are the leading cause of child poisoning. In fact, in 2017, nearly 52,000 children under the age of 6 were seen in the emergency room for medicine poisoning. That's 1 child every 10 minutes. Every 12 days, a child under the age of 6 in the United States dies from an accidental medicine related poisoning. Every hour, a child is hospitalized for that same reason, and every 9 minutes, a child goes to the emergency room. 

To keep children safe: 

  • Consider places where kids get into medicine. Often, children find medicine kept in purses, or on counters and nightstands. Place bags on high shelves or hang them on hooks, out of children's reach and sight.
  • Remember products you might not think about as medicine. Health products such as vitamins, diaper rash creams, herbal remedies, and even eye drops can be harmful if kids get into them. Store these items out of reach and sight of children, just as you would over-the-counter and prescription medicines.
  • Give medicine safely to children. Only use the dosing device that comes with liquid medicine, not a kitchen spoon. When other caregivers are giving your child medicine, write clear instructions about what medicine to give, how much to give, and when to give it. Use a medicine schedule to help with caregiver communication.
  • Save the Poison Help number in your phone and post it visibly at home. 1-800-222-1222. Specialists at poison control centers provide free, confidential, expert medical advice 24 hours a day. They can answer questions about how to give or take medicine and help with poison emergencies.
  • Share medicine safety information with family and friends. Teach other caregivers about medicine safety and make sure they know the Poison Help number.  

Sadly, children who suffer from chronic diseases can have chronic pain, making them unable to be involved in every day activities. Families should work closely with healthcare providers to explore treatment options, including non-opioid alternatives. Poor pain management in children can put them at risk for persistent pain and increased impairment as they transition into adulthood. This may even be linked to the development of new chronic pain conditions. 

Adolescents & Young Adults 

Did you know that teens as young as 12, as well as college students between the ages of 18 and 25, have among the highest rates of prescription drug abuse? As a parent, it's important to teach your children to respect the power of medicine and use it properly. Recognize that all medicines, both prescription and OTC, have risks along with benefits. Take responsibility for learning how to take medicines safely and appropriately, and seek help at the first sign of a problem. 

Many people think that misusing prescription drugs is safer than illegal drug use. Yet, prescription drugs can be just as dangerous. And, the easiest way for teens to obtain prescription medicines is from their friends or their parents' medicine cabinet. Prescription drug misuse, which includes opioids, is among the fastest growing drug problem in the United States. 

Kids who continue to learn about the risks of drugs at home are up to 50% less likely to use drugs. Talk about opioids with your teen and their healthcare providers. Diminish opportunities for easy access with tips for the safe storage and disposal of medications. Remind your teen or college student never to accept or purchase prescription medications from friends, strangers, or other illegal sources, like unapproved pharmacies on the internet. 

1 in 4 teenagers incorrectly believe that prescription drugs can be used as a study aid. Nearly one-third of parents say that they believe that ADHD medication can improve a child's academic or testing performance, even if that child doesn't have ADHD. It is both illegal and harmful to take someone else's prescription medication. 

Sports injuries are common and may result in pain severe enough to involve a prescription opioid. If a student athlete is injured, whenever possible, treat the injury first with rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Seek medical care if necessary. Opioids for pain should be considered only by a physician and only when other treatment methods haven't provided relief. 

Adults

Here are some 10 facts about opioid use and older adults: 

  1. Seniors use more medicines - prescription, OTC, and supplements than any other age group in the U.S. 
  2. Older adults often use multiple medications, increasing the risk of drug interactions, mix-ups, and the potential for harmful side effects. 
  3. Your liver & kidneys may not work as well as when you were younger. This decreased function can affect the way a medicine works, is absorbed, broken down, and removed from the body. 
  4. Medicines may stay in the body longer & cause more severe side effects if doses are not properly adjusted. 
  5. Age-related changes to the body such as weight loss, decreased body fluid, and increased fatty tissue, can alter the way drugs are distributed and concentrated in the body. 
  6. Increased sensitivity to many medications is more common in older adults. 
  7. Impaired memory, hearing, & vision loss can make it more difficult to understand & remember medicine instructions, especially for those with complicated treatment regimens. Many older Americans also face declining eyesight, grip strength, mobility, and memory lapses - all of which can affect the ability to safely  take medication as prescribed. 
  8. Older adults tend to receive prescriptions from different healthcare professionals. This fact can make it difficult to track medicines and identify drug interactions, harmful doses, & unnecessary or ineffective medicines. 
  9. Chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, and cancer, are more common in older adults and often require a more complex medicine management regimen. 
  10. Older adults may not follow medication plans because of forgetfulness, bothersome side effects, a perception that medicine isn't working, or the cost. 

However, opioids may be a necessary part of a pain care regimen. When possible, your healthcare team should discuss other possible options that might be right for you or the person you are caring for. Many risks of opioid misuse and abuse can be prevented if you are armed with information about safe medication use and how to get the most from your medicines. Ask your doctor about all of the pain management and treatment options, including non-opioid and OTC medications. 

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