Choose This Week To Be Heard on Opioids

Being vocal on possible solutions can save lives.

Deborah A.P. Hersman is the president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

​Louis Miceli was an ordinary teenager, doing the things ordinary teenagers love to do. But after he was prescribed opioid painkillers for a high school football injury, he started a spiral of addiction that ended with his death from an overdose at age 24.

It would be tragic enough if his death was an isolated case, but Louis's story represents thousands of people who die every year under virtually identical circumstances.

International Overdose Awareness Day on Wednesday, Aug. 31, is a time to remember – a time to act. With more than 200 events held in 14 countries, the event is designed to:

  • Raise awareness of prescription drug overdose
  • Reduce the stigma attached to a drug-related death
  • Remember those who have died
  • Acknowledge the grief felt by family and friends.

In the United States, about 47,000 people die every year from poisonings and drug overdoses, often from prescription pain medications. That translates to more than 52 people every day, many of them like Louis Miceli.

Here in Illinois, we recorded 1,800 overdose deaths in 2015, with almost 60% of them taking place in the Chicago area. A majority of those overdoses involved either opioids or heroin.

Progress is being made. Earlier this year, the White House proposed $1 billion in programs aimed at reducing opioid abuse and overdose. This summer, Congress approved the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which supported numerous approaches to address opioid abuse and treatment for addiction.

But the mission still needs our support. Our elected officials voted in favor of these programs, but we do not have funding in place to carry out the authorized programs. An NSC Report released earlier this summer shows more than half of U.S. states lack a comprehensive, proven plan to eliminate prescription opioid overdoses for their citizens. 

This week, I encourage you to learn more about the nation's opioid epidemic and take action to be safer. Call your congressman and senators and tell them you support more funding for opioid-related initiatives. Look into how opioid awareness can be improved in your workplace. Check your own medicine cabinet and make certain there aren't any leftover medications that someone might use to continue an addiction.

Any or all of those steps can make a difference, and making a difference is what we need to do, this week and in the weeks to come. With your involvement, somewhere in the United States – maybe on a high school football field like the one Louis Miceli played on – there is a teenager who will live a long and healthy life because, this week, we stood together to say that the opioid epidemic needs to be stopped.

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