Closing the Cap on Opioid Misuse

Open medication bottle with pills spilling out.

Opioids are a frequent topic of national and local news for good reason. In Michigan, deaths from prescription and illicit opioids have increased 17-fold since 1999. Nationally, 12.5 million people age 12 and older misused opioids in the last year.

October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month. MHealthy has compiled a list of U-M and community resources to help raise awareness and reduce risk of misuse.

“When opioids are used properly and under a doctor’s supervision, they are one effective way to manage pain in the short-term,” says Preeti Malani, MD, U-M’s chief health officer and a professor of internal medicine. “However, ongoing opioid use can lead to physical dependency.”

Faculty and staff can take steps to reduce their own risk of misuse, as well as the risk of loved ones.

Speak up about concerns

“You are an important member of your medical team,” says Malani. “Your medical records and past history don’t always tell the whole story. Talk with your doctor about your concerns or any health conditions that might increase your risk.”

Patients should let their doctor know if they have a history of depression or anxiety, tobacco use, long-term pain, or alcohol or drug abuse.

Ask about alternatives

There are options when it comes to pain management. Sometimes an over-the-counter pain medicine can be used instead. Certain relaxation techniques, meditation, physical therapy, or even music have also been effective in managing pain. Doctor and patient can weigh the options together to make the best choice.

Malani says that if an opioid is prescribed, as the pain gets better, patients should try waiting longer between doses to reduce the amount of medication administered.

Properly dispose and store medications

Unused or expired drugs can be lost, stolen or misused. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than half of people who abused prescription drugs got them from a relative or a friend.

There are several ways to properly dispose of opioids and other medications:

  • Michigan OPEN has an online map of disposal locations and a guide to local take-back events.
  • Many local police departments serve as opioid disposal sites.
  • University Health Service Pharmacy is a safe medication disposal site, and the university holds additional take-back events a few times a year.

Making sure medications are securely stored is just as important. Remember to lock pills away and never store medicines in easy access locations like the kitchen or bathroom. 

Reach out for support or help

Help is available for anyone dealing with the physical and mental effects of opioid or other substance dependency.

“Among people who perceive the need for treatment around their substance use, many do not seek it,” says Erik Anderson, LMSW, CAADC, a faculty and staff counselor in the Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience. “According to a 2016 survey by the National Institute of Health, the most common reasons for not getting help are cost, concerns that treatment might impact their job, stigma in their community, and not knowing where to go for help.”

Faculty and staff who want help understanding their relationship with opioids or other substances in a nonjudgmental setting can contact the Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience in Michigan Medicine or the Faculty and Staff Counseling and Consultation Office for free, confidential services. Both offices are staffed with a multidisciplinary team of mental health professionals.

Employees can also reach out if they’re concerned about a coworker or loved one and don’t know how to proceed.

“It’s so important for us to be aware of our colleagues and friends,” says Anderson. “We may not always know how to approach someone we think is struggling but it is important that we feel empowered to do something.”

Visit MHealthy's Opioid Awareness webpage for more information.