Dose of Reality: preventing prescription painkiller abuse in Minnesota

By Lori Swanson

Guest Columnist

Attorney General Lori Swansen
Attorney General Lori Swansen

Prescription painkillers can be helpful and beneficial for treating pain when prescribed by a licensed professional and properly used, stored, and discarded. But when misused, they can be dangerous and sometimes deadly. The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, in partnership with the Anoka County Attorney’s Office, recently launched “Dose of Reality” to raise public awareness on proper use, storage, and disposal of prescription painkillers. For more information, visit DoseOfReality.mn.gov.

The Opioid epidemic

There is a public health crisis involving prescription opioid painkillers. Common painkillers include OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, fentanyl, and codeine. More people now die from opioid-related overdoses than from car accidents. About 80% of heroin users first abused prescription painkillers. Every 25 minutes, a baby is born with opioid-withdrawal symptoms; about 1,000 people receive emergency room treatment each day for opioid abuse; and opioid abuse costs employers about $26 billion each year in lost workplace productivity.

Use painkillers safely

You should only take prescription painkillers prescribed to you, and you should take them only for the condition for which they were prescribed. Unlike some medications, painkillers should be taken only when needed.

Store painkillers safely

About 70% of people who misuse prescription painkillers obtain them for free from friends and family. Storing painkillers in an accessible place means that they are available for children, teenagers, and others to find and abuse. Store painkillers in a secure location like a locked medicine cabinet or drawer to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.

Dispose of painkillers safely

Because unused medications can fall into the wrong hands, it is important to safely dispose of unneeded and expired opioid painkiller prescriptions Bring unused painkillers to an approved local disposal site. Many local police departments or pharmacies maintain free collection facilities. To locate disposal sites near you, an interactive map (searchable by zip code) is available at https://DoseOfReality.mn.gov/drug-takeback/find-a-take-back-location/.

You can dispose of unneeded medications at collection receptacles year-round. National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is Saturday, April 29. This is also a good time for community members to dispose of medications at community events organized with local law enforcement. Local take back events may be found on the DEA’s website at https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback/.

For more information about treatment resources, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov, or the Minnesota Department of Human Services at (651) 431-2460 or DHS.ADAD@state.mn.us.

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Lori Swanson is the Minnesota Attorney General.