Extension 'promises' to help communities combat opioids


Mary Nelson Robertson, coordinator of a Mississippi State University Extension Service project to reduce opioid misuse, disposes of an unused prescription in a special drop box at the MSU Police Department on Monday.

Mary Nelson Robertson, coordinator of a Mississippi State University Extension Service project to reduce opioid misuse, disposes of an unused prescription in a special drop box at the MSU Police Department on Monday. Photo by: Linda Breazeale/MSU Extension Service


Evelyn Phillips/MSU Extension Service



Agents and specialists with the Mississippi State University Extension Service are "promising" to confront the opioid problem in Mississippi communities.  


"PReventing Opioid Misuse in the Southeast," or PROMISE, is an Extension initiative to address this national crisis in communities across the Southeast. PROMISE is funded by a $310,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  


MSU Extension health specialist David Buys said one of the main issues with the misuse of opioids is that they are more accessible than they need to be.  


"Most of the work that is being done is somewhat reactive: it's providing treatment and addressing issues after an addiction begins," he said. "We need to limit the number of opioids that can be prescribed at one time and require people to come back to their physician to verify that the patients actually need a refill." 


In an overburdened health care system, physicians may prescribe more opioids than patients actually need to prevent them from returning for additional visits, Buys said. Many patients prefer this approach, as it saves them money on office visits as well. 


Buys said the bigger issue is that people turn to opioids because they are trying to cover up pain, and it might not always be just physical. Sometimes, it might be emotional pain, social pain or financial pain. 


"The misuse of opioids is commonly a response of despair, reflecting the need for better jobs, stronger families and healthier individuals," he said. "By keeping people healthy and removing the despair from their minds, communities can reduce the opioid risks." 


Buys and his team plan to implement a strategy that uses something like a very secure postal box where individuals can drop off medicine they no longer need. These "drop boxes" may help protect those with addictions from getting the drugs out of the trash. They also prevent people from flushing pills down the drain, contaminating the water system.  




The sandwich generation 


The initiative targets people from 30 to 59 -- the "sandwich generation" -- the primary group caring for children and their own aging parents. Buys said he wants them to understand the danger and advantage of opioids, as well as how to use, store and dispose of them properly.  


"Targeting this age group provides us the opportunity to reach not just one segment of the population, but also children and other adults," Buys said.  


Mary Nelson Robertson, project coordinator for the PROMISE Initiative, emphasized that opioids are not inherently bad, but their misuse can have serious consequences, including death. 


"We hope to prevent opioid misuse before the first prescription is even written, to empower individuals to be advocates for their own health, and to educate people about more ways to prevent opioid misuse through proper use, proper storage and proper disposal of opioids," Robertson said. 


"We want to educate people before the problem either kills a loved one or costs them hundreds of dollars in recovery," she said.  




Innovative disposal 


"Some pharmacies are providing patients with a solution -- DisposeRX -- that consists of a small packet with a chemical blend that, when emptied into a pill bottle with warm water, makes the medications unusable and safe to dispose of in a home trash can. After completing the mixture, the opioids are no longer dangerous or usable," Robertson said. 


"We encourage individuals to dispose of unused prescription opioids properly and not keep unused prescription medications in their households," Robertson said. "If a person uses just a few pills of a 30 day prescription, we encourage that individual to dispose of all the unused pills. Prescription take-back boxes are a great way to dispose of prescription opioids or other prescription medications properly and safely." 


To learn more about this project, go to extension.msstate.edu/content/the-promise-initiative/.



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