EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - Today, August 31st is National Overdose Awareness Day and it’s time for me to reintroduce my son, Jason. For the past twelve-plus years, I have been talking about Jason, introducing him to new groups of youth, parents, school faculty, and others, in an attempt to demonstrate what a drug abuser looks like.
Jason was a young man who died of an overdose of prescription drugs that he was abusing.
This is also the face of a smart, funny, caring, and loving young man who made a horrible mistake. Not an “oops” kind of mistake, but a permanent one – one that cannot be taken back, no do-overs.
So, in spite of the twelve-plus years that I have been talking about Jason, why are so many young people still dying?
According to the CDC, in 2014, opioid overdose deaths reached its national peak - 47,055 – about 125 Americans a day. That’s too many deaths, but even more alarming is the rate at which these preventable deaths are occurring. In 2003, nine people died for every 100,000. In 2014, that number is 15. That’s more fatalities due to overdoses than car crashes. In New Jersey in 2013, a total of 1,300 people died of an opiate-related drug overdose. New Jersey’s overdose death rate is currently three times the national rate.
A lot has caused this national epidemic. Availability is one of the primary contributing factors. Medications legitimately prescribed by doctors often end up sitting in someone’s medicine cabinet, forgotten and accessible to anyone visiting to help themselves. And, the reason they are sitting in the medicine cabinet is generally because too many pills were prescribed in the first place. Nobody needs 30 Vicodin after a tooth extraction.
Another contributing factor is the misperception of harm. People believe that, since these are legal drugs prescribed by doctors, they must be safe. The fact is – taking prescription drugs without a prescription and without a physician’s guidance is simply playing Russian Roulette and we know that losers don’t get a second chance.
A lot has been done to address this epidemic. Nationally, we have the attention of the White House Office of National Drug Control. They have developed campaigns to raise awareness of the issue, and have directed funds and policies to help end the epidemic.
In New Jersey, as well as 48 other states, we have a Prescription Monitoring Program, a database that collects information used to reduce prescription drug abuse and diversion. Other initiatives in New Jersey, as well as other states, include:
- Overdose Prevention Act, also known as the Good Samaritan Law, which provides protections for the victim and those who seek help during an overdose from arrest, charge, and prosecution for obtaining, possessing, using, or being under the influence of drugs.
- The Overdose Prevention Act also provides access naloxone (Narcan), the drug that reverses an opioid overdose. Distribution of the lifesaving drug, as well as training, is taking place all over New Jersey.
- Project Medicine Drop provides permanent drop boxes for disposing of expired or unused medications. More than 120 boxes are located in police departments across the State
- National Medicine Take Back Day, sponsored by the DEA, is held twice a year to provide an opportunity for individuals to dispose of unneeded medications. The next one will be Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 from 10am to 2pm.
- The Coalition for Healthy Communities, along with other Regional Coalitions across the State, are addressing the issue with events, campaigns, and other initiatives to help raise awareness and save lives.
Please help spread the word. Prescription drug abuse leads to addiction and/or death. It has also fueled the heroin epidemic we now face. You can help save a life.
*The Wellspring Cente for Prevention is located on Cranbury Road in East Brunswick. https://www.facebook.com/ncadd.middlesex/