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Toolkit Aims to Make Adolescents Aware of Dangers of Opioid Abuse

Cheryl Thompson

Cheryl ThompsonDirector, News Center

Despite years of involvement in opioid medication management, clinical pharmacy professor Saira A. Jan left a meeting with a local New Jersey group last fall alarmed at the realization that high schoolers do not recognize the dangers of abusing opioids.

"Talking to this community group, they were like, 'Yes, we know so many people whose kids have overdosed,'" recalled Jan, a faculty member at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, in Piscataway.

The incident spurred Jan to work with that group—Community in Crisis—and students in her managed care advanced pharmacy practice experience to produce "Opioid Abuse Toolkit: Resources for New Jersey Communities 2017."

Officially released on April 3, the toolkit provides documents to help reach out to middle and high school students, university students, and various other members of the community.

The toolkit also provides instructions for recruiting volunteers, holding "drug take back" events, training audiences how to administer naloxone, and setting up local support groups.

And there are ready-to-print posters targeted to distinct audiences and even a trifold brochure for real estate agents to give to homeowners.

That brochure—a request from Community in Crisis—had not been on Jan's radar at all.

"We have issues with Realtors," Jan said the group told her. "I'm like, 'What?! What issues with Realtors?'"

The idea had never occurred to Jan that people would use the pretext of shopping for a house as a means to gain entry and steal narcotics or other medications from medicine cabinets.

Thus, the brochure Lock Your Rx Stock: Help Prevent Drug Abuse provides 5 instructions to homeowners to protect their medications during open houses. Locations of nearby drop boxes—primarily at law enforcement facilities—are listed.

Community in Crisis arose 3 years ago as a grassroots effort based on the state's 2014 report Confronting New Jersey's New Drug Problem: A Strategic Plan to Address a Burgeoning Heroin/Opiate Epidemic Among Adolescents and Young Adults, said Andi Williams, president.

Williams, branch manager for a Young Men's Christian Association, said the toolkit came together in 4 months and was based on Community in Crisis's successes.

These successes have been achieved in an area, Somerset County, that Williams acknowledged as being one of high income, high drive, and "definitely a veneer of well-being, which with it brings its own problems of denial—the not-my-kids syndrome [or] 'Everything's fine, we're OK. '"

Community in Crisis, she said, receives requests every week from community groups in other counties to provide support and assistance.

Small low- to no-cost efforts based on recommendations and presentations by Community in Crisis, such as hosting a drug take-back event and displaying posters around the community, can be implemented by volunteers and are already taking place across New Jersey, Williams said.

"We've learned over the 3 years that education can start as early as elementary school in terms of prevention and awareness education," Williams said. "But we are targeting high school because we know that drug use is high there."

More than one fourth of 12th graders in one Somerset County school district reported being prescribed a narcotic painkiller at some time, usually for an acute problem, according to a recent survey funded by a municipal alliance. And about one sixth of 10th and 12th graders reported that narcotic painkillers posed "no risk" or "slight risk."

The most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that the age groups 15–24 and 25–34 years had the greatest 1-year increases—91.7% and 94.1%, respectively—in the rate of drug-overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone.

But young adults 18–30 years old "are a very difficult audience to reach," Williams said. "They're no longer, for the most part, living at home, and if they are living at home, it's usually because they dropped out of college . . . and hence are disengaged."

Rutgers has made the toolkit and supplemental material available online ( Chancellor Brian L. Strom, Pharmacy Dean Joseph A. Barone, and Jan are asking users of the materials to cite all acknowledgments and copyright credits as appropriate.

[This news story appears in the May 15, 2017, issue of AJHP.]

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