Groups raise awareness about dangers of opiate medication

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Harvey Schmidt of Schmidt and Sons Pharmacy, uses the MAPS program to identify people trying to get prescriptions at more than one pharmacy. Tecumseh Coalition for Youth has been working to promote use of the MAPS program by area physicians, as well. It’s part of a plan that also includes a medicine dropbox, and supporting the local SADD chapter at THS. Herald file photo by Mary Kay McPartlin.

Saturday is National Awareness Day about opioid and heroin addiction. Tecumseh Coalition for Youth and the Tecumseh High School Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) are working to get the word out to people in the community about the highly addictive qualities of the two substances, both part of the opiate classification of drugs.

According to National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, “opioids are strong prescription painkillers used by doctors to treat serious and chronic pain. Commonly abused painkillers include OxyContin, Vicodin, fentanyl, Darvon, Dilaudid, codeine, Demerol, Percoset, and Percodan.”

April Demers, prevention coordinator for the TCY, finds in her work with schools that the legal aspect of opioid medication confuses the situation. “Kids are seeing it’s okay to take pills,” she said.

After asking students how many know of a person who has taken another person’s medication, students are surprised at Demers’ follow-up statement. “It is a felony to take someone else’s prescription medication,” she said. “It is against the law.”

Students also do not understand the addictive quality of opioids. Many of the less expensive medications are mixed with acetaminophen, and quickly stop delivering the desired high. “You build up a tolerance to it,” Demers said.

The transition to medications that contain no acetaminophen is an expensive one, with an 80-milligram tablet costing $80. This is usually the time where a person makes the switch to heroin.

“It’s $10 a high versus $80 a high,” said Demers. “That’s where that expense comes in. They’re turning to heroin because it’s cheaper and more accessible.”

The goal of the 45 students who are part of SADD at THS is to let their peers know opiate drug abuse leads to heroin addiction. “A report from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has found that four out of five recent heroin initiates — about 79 percent — previously used prescription pain relievers non-medically,” Demers said. “In addition, people aged 12 to 49 who had used prescription pain relievers non medically were 19 times more likely to have initiated heroin use within the past 12 months than others in that age group.”

Some of the SADD members are training to be peer mentors and will work with Tecumseh Middle School seventh and eighth grade students. As an alternative to pre-homecoming parties, SADD will sponsor a Blacktop Bash at the high school. The tailgate party features a disc jockey, games, food, and giveaways for THS students.

“They are actually going to designate some prevention strategies,” said Demers about other work SADD has planned for fall.

TCY continues its work in the community to educate families about the dangers of prescription medication. The medicine dropbox at the Tecumseh Police Station has been well used by the community, and another dropbox is planned for Raisin Township.

“It’s about reducing access to these prescription medications,” Demers said about the importance of the dropbox program. The group is also encouraging physicians to regularly incorporate Michigan Automated Prescription System (MAPS) into the prescription process.

Mike Wissel, manager of MAPS, will make a presentation to area physicians about the benefits of using the program. According to Demers, continuing education for physicians on use of painkiller medication is planned for March or April.

The goal is to cut down on the number of prescriptions for opioids, reducing the amount of addictive medications easily available in the community. Demers said she is often approached by parents and grandparents concerned about the growing number of teenagers and young adults addicted to opioids.

“They ask me, ‘What can I do?’” Demers said. “I encourage community members to be accountable for yourself. Be alert. Be aware. Know what you have. Dispose of your medications.”

“It’s so easy to become physically dependent on opioids,” said Demers. “No one starts out to be a heroin addict. They could be making some poor choices without realizing the seriousness.”

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