ST. LOUIS COUNTY — In order to prevent adverse effects of drug misuse, the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office holds a biannual Drug Take Back Day event. This year it will be held on Saturday, October 24 in Duluth, Virginia, and Hibbing. This collection process is an important step in reducing substance use and misuse. Removing old prescriptions from a household can reduce the chance that someone will use. Unfortunately, many people that become dependent on opioids begin by using prescription medication, whether it was their own, or someone else’s.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “roughly 21-29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.” Misuse is characterized by taking someone else’s medication, taking an incorrect dosage of medication, taking medication in a different way than what is recommended (i.e. snorting or injecting), or using the medicine to get high. Taking medication incorrectly, or taking medication that is expired, not meant for you, or no longer necessary can lead to both short term and long term negative effects, including accidental poisoning and/or death.
The Addiction Center says there have been, on average, 115 opioid-related deaths per day since 2014. Furthermore, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), “drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death in U.S. adults under age 50, and opioids account for more than half of all drug overdose deaths.” Because substance misuse is so difficult to treat and no specific risk factor has been directly linked (only suspected) to why certain people develop more of a dependence than others, it is imperative that we act proactively to prevent substance use disorder (SUD).
A very important part of acting proactively and being responsive to the difficulties of substance misuse also includes reducing shame and stigma surrounding treatment and addiction. To start, it helps to get a deeper understanding of what SUD is: the NIH defines it as “a long-lasting (chronic) disease” and also states that “opioids change the chemistry of the brain and lead to drug tolerance.” Furthermore, the NIH states that “taking opioids over a long period of time produces dependence, such that when people stop taking the drug, they have physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal.”
Many people see SUD as a choice and believe that people can stop if and when they want. Some will also recognize that it is difficult, but that the person suffering just isn’t trying hard enough to quit. Quitting is not that simple or easy. As the NIH explains, there are physical changes to the brain, which makes it increasingly difficult for people suffering from SUD to stop, regardless of the way that their disease is affecting their life. Some research suggests that the shame surrounding SUD is actually a deterrent to seeking help. People with a SUD may experience substandard care in a medical setting or get blamed for their disease. They are also likely to internalize stigma and reject seeking treatment as a result of their own shame or out of fear and anxiety of being treated poorly. It’s important to recognize the difficulties of SUD so that we can recognize the importance of preventing it.
Drug Take Back Day is a “no questions asked” event and is a relatively simple way to help prevent use and possible misuse. Join the fight on Saturday, October 24 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. by dropping off your old or unused prescription medications in a drop box near you. The drop boxes will be available at the Duluth Public Safety Building, the Virginia courthouse, and the Hibbing courthouse.
There are also year-round drop boxes available at Walgreens, CVS, and Essentia Health pharmacies, as well as the Babbitt Police Department, the Chisholm Police Department, Ely City Hall, the Eveleth Police Department, the Floodwood Police Department, the Gilbert Police Department, the Hibbing Sheriff’s Office/courthouse, and the Virginia Sheriff’s Office/courthouse. We also offer mail-in envelopes for people who might have more difficulties making it to a drop-box. If this sounds like a better option for you, contact Anna Clough by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 218-471-7362. If you call and there is no answer, please leave a voicemail with your name, address, and a way for us to contact you if there are any further questions.
Anna Clough lives in Duluth. She is an AmericCorps Vista member working for the St. Louis County Public Health Division. Her role is to help with prevention and harm reduction strategies surrounding opioid use.