What's Working in the Prescription Painkiller Epidemic

Tackling Prescription Drug Misuse

While legislative bodies have made great strides, more state action is required to prevent prescription drug misuse and overdose deaths, according to Prescription Nation, a report on America's prescription drug abuse epidemic by the National Safety Council.

Access to Treatment

The most effective treatments for opioid and heroin use include:

  • Medicine (buprenorphine, methadone, naltrexone)
  • Education (how to manage this condition)
  • Recovery support (family, housing, employment)

Addiction is a chronic disease affecting the brain. Like heart disease or diabetes, addiction will lead to increasing poor health and death if not treated and managed. Twelve-step programs and rehabilitative counseling without the use of medications are the least effective approaches.

Sometimes, it Takes a Village

Madison-Dane County, WI, launched a coordinated effort to stop drug overdose incidents by enlisting help from law enforcement officials, opioid treatment professionals, family members and first-responders.

These parties came together in a coalition to attack opioid abuse by:

  • Forming a parent addiction network, providing resources and answering questions online
  • Setting up a MedDrop box for unwanted or unused medications
  • Equipping physicians with smart-set tools, one-stop shopping locations for doctors looking for patient records
  • Making naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose, more readily available
  • Launching a "Call 911" bus billboard campaign posing the question, "Would you let a friend die?"

The coalition was able to address the drug overdose problem because Madison-Dane County is an accredited Safe Community. Safe Communities achieve accreditation by looking at deadly trends affecting their neighborhoods and working with stakeholders to put measures in place to stop preventable deaths.

"The power of coalitions is the partners," said Dane County Safe Communities Executive Director Cheryl Wittke. "So, having all these different partners playing off the same sheet of music is essential to an effective program. It will save lives, and that's what this is all about."

Sign up for the free Prescription Drug Community Action Kit.

Sometimes, it Takes a Single Voice

Many, like Tim Ryan and Angelee Murray, choose to share their own experiences and push for state and federal funding to pay for treatment centers.

Ryan, a resident of Naperville, IL, is a former heroin addict who lost his job, his wife and his son before turning his life around. Today, he helps individuals and families struggling with addiction through his foundation, A Man in Recovery. He favors long-term treatment over incarceration for people with substance abuse issues.

Murray co-founded the Red Legacy Recovery program in Elizabethton, TN, and served as a panelist on a White House forum convened to tackle heroin and painkiller abuse in Appalachia. She once was addicted to painkillers. Today, the mission of her program is to empower women in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction with the skills to become self-confident, self-sufficient and employed.

Learn more about Survivor Advocates.

Guiding Prescribers

Expanding access to naloxone: Virginia Senator Tim Kaine introduced a bill that would create federal guidelines for doctors to co-prescribe naloxone with other opioid prescriptions. Naloxone reverses opioid overdose. Successful Naloxone distribution programs for opioid users and other lay people across the country have saved more than 10,000 lives since 1996. Illinois Congressman Bob Dold spoke at the first International Overdose Awareness Day Rally. His message: For naloxone to be effective, it must be easily available and cost effective.

Prescribing guidelines: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain to support informed clinical decision-making. One conclusion: Providers should only consider adding opioid therapies if expected benefits for both pain and function are anticipated to outweigh risks to the patient.

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  • Madison-Dane County Case Study

    ​​Learn how Madison Dane County, Wisconsin, reduced its opioid problem.​

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