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Overdose Prevention Critical During The Holidays

Averting a dangerous risk spike …

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The ‘most wonderful time of the year’ is also the most dangerous time of year for drug-related deaths – with the risk greatest among those who struggle with seasonal stress, depression and loneliness.

Research from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that drug overdoses increase by about 22 percent during the holiday season. More than half of those overdoses occur in people who have received an opioid prescription within the past year.  

Fentanyl overdoses are of particular concern – especially in South Carolina – as the numbers of victims in the Palmetto State continues to surge. In 2012, there were 572 overdose deaths according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC). By 2021, that number had grown to 1,734 overdose deaths – with 1,100 involving fentanyl.

Experts say prevention is the key to combating the holiday risk spike – and a big part of prevention is proper medication disposal.

“Given the risks of keeping unused medicine in the home, medication safety is critical in keeping our families and communities safe,” said William Simpson, president and chief executive officer of DisposeRx. “The last time any patient medication safety initiative was implemented was 1970 by president Richard Nixon, when child safety caps were introduced on pill bottles. It’s time for more.”

DisposeRx is a simple, in-home method that allows people to safely, conveniently and effectively remove unused medication from their home. It allows people to mix a simple, patented powder formula directly into the medicine vial in the convenience of their own home any day of the year. This method is a safe and effective means of destroying medication that complies with Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Board of Pharmacy standards.  

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The company has also co-developed the Coaches vs. Overdoses Prevention Playbook, which focuses on the risk for high school athletes – many of whom  are first exposed to opioids after experiencing an injury.   

The Coaches vs. Overdoses campaign pairs the distribution of in-home disposal kits with educational materials aimed at prevention.  

An important facet of this effort focuses on the message that “one pill can kill.” That’s because it takes very little fentanyl – mere grains – to prove fatal. Also, the substance need not be intentionally ingested for this to happen. Handling fentanyl – or breathing it in – can also result in lethal exposure.

This is why law enforcement agencies have protocols for carefully handling substances suspected to be fentanyl. And, why they have strict protocols for accidental exposure when it does occur.

This synthetic opioid was developed at a potency of 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine to treat the extreme pain of terminal cancer patients, according to the DEA.  It was only ever intended to be administered in tiny, measured doses.

Further, the effects come on so suddenly that people don’t know when they have taken it – or for intentional users – when they have taken too much. It’s not uncommon for people to be unaware they have been exposed to fentanyl until a drug test confirms it.

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RELATED | ON THE FRONT LINES OF THE FENTANYL EPIDEMIC

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If there is any good news to be had, this is it:  Overdose need not be fatal. There is one factor known to make a difference in the outcome of an overdose situation. That is one person who is prepared and knows what to do.

According to End Overdose, a non-profit organization on a mission to prevent overdose deaths, “three out of five overdose deaths could have been prevented if someone present knew how and when to intervene.”  In other words, an awful lot of people die unnecessarily from fentanyl overdoses because of inaction.

End Overdose is one of several organizations offering a free online certification program that trains individuals to appropriately identify and respond to overdose situations. The training includes how and when to administer Naxolone – or Narcan, which reverses the effects of opioids temporarily. Naxolone is safe and does not harm individuals who may be suffering from other conditions that mimic an overdose.  

In many places including South Carolina, Naxolone can be obtained without a prescription from pharmacies and community providers. End Overdose also provides Naloxone or Narcan upon request to certified individuals who pay only for the cost of shipping.

Civilian training is important because time is of the essence. When an overdose occurs, it may be possible to call emergency services and let them handle it. However, in these situations every minute counts and the time to respond and successfully administer Naxolone is extremely limited. Individuals trained to administer Naxolone and prepared with a supply on hand need not wait for first responders to save a life.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Callie Lyons (provided)

Callie Lyons is a journalist, researcher and author. Her 2007 book ‘Stain-Resistant, Nonstick, Waterproof and Lethal’ was the first to cover forever chemicals and their impact on communities – a story later told in the movie ‘Dark Waters’. Her investigative work has been featured in media outlets, publications, and documentaries all over the world. Lyons also appears in ‘Citizen Sleuth’ – a 2023 documentary exploring the genre of true crime.

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