As a child, my mother and I would visit her family near the Panama Canal Zone for summer vacation, and invariably there would be stories of “Sal si puedes” – literally “leave if you can.” Sal si puedes was the derelict and dangerous opium smoking section of Panama City in the late 1800’s and first half of the 20th century. Legend has it the narcotic-laced smoke was so thick that people walking through that area would get a contact high and choose to stay a while; never to leave again for long. It was a place where fortunes, dreams and futures died.
Movies like the French Connection, Trainspotting, Traffic, Requiem for a Dream, American Gangster and others depicted graphic images of addiction, despair, and violence that surround the culture of heroin; a culture that seemed far removed from mainstream life for the vast majority of most Americans.
As we head into the second decade of the 21st century however, new CDC data is showing that the road to heroin town does not start in third world countries or darkened city doorways, corners or alleys.
It starts in the medicine cabinet:
- Over 60 percent of prescription opioid drug abusers report getting started in the medicine cabinets of family or friends
- Roughly one in 20 people in the US reported using prescription painkillers (e.g. Vicodin, Norco, Percocet, Oxycontin, methadone, etc) for non-medical reasons in the past year
- An estimated 2.4 million Americans used prescription pain drugs non-medically for the first time in the past year according to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)
So what does prescription opioid drug abuse have to do with heroin? Prescription opioids and heroin are closely related and work on the same part of the brain. Prescription opiods are the new gateway – a super highway actually — to heroin abuse.
- Between 2008 and 2010, almost 80% of heroin users report getting their start from prescription opioid drug abuse. Yes, 4 out of 5 heroin users started with prescription pain medications before graduating to a more dangerous, illicit heroin high.
The sequence of events moves people from legitimate pain pill prescriptions to doctor shopping and drug diversion (purchasing narcotic pain pills on the street) to the world of dealers and plastic bags of powder.
So how do we work to reverse this trend? How do we keep the fortunes, dreams and futures of our children and family members intact?
It starts by cleaning out the medicine cabinet of unused pain medications. Simply put- the family medicine cabinet is the starting point for prescription drug misuse for teens and young adults. Some of them will quickly move from experimentation to addiction to heroin use with tragic results.
Ways to dispose of unneeded prescription pain medications include:
Prescription Drug Take Back Sites:
These sites, where available, are an ideal spot to take expired or unwanted medications to an approved medication disposal site in your community. You may call your local health department or other government agency to find the locations.
Disposal in the trash:
If a medication disposal program is not available in the area, the unwanted or expired medicine may be thrown away in the trash:
- Liquids should first be poured over paper towels, kitty litter, or coffee grounds. Place the tightly wrapped mixture into a sealable or watertight container or bag.
- Solids (pills, capsules, tablets) may be mixed with undesirable substances such as coffee grounds or kitty litter so that they are less likely to be eaten. Place the tightly wrapped mixture into a sealable or water tight container or bag.
- When these medicines are placed in the trash, be sure to place them in an inaccessible location to minimize the chance of accidental poisoning of children and pets.
In rare select cases, the FDA recommends flushing highly abused medications:
The FDA recommends that some powerful narcotics, stimulants and a few other drugs should be flushed down the toilet or drain as the public health risk of storing these no longer needed drugs is very high. The list can be found here.
Removing prescription pain medication out of medicine cabinets is a great step in keeping heroin out of our homes and communities. By taking away ground zero for prescription drug abuse, we will also be able to turn the tide of increasing heroin abuse throughout the state.
If you have concerns about prescription drugs, heroin or any other exposure to potentially harmful substance, please call the Illinois Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.
Till next Tuesday,
Be sure to check out My Child Ate Resource Library in case your child ingests a potentially harmful substance.