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Opioid prescription abuse is more possible than you think

MONROE — Seniors were curious about what they should do with their old pain medications, and the answer is not to flush them down the toilet.
This information and more about opioids was shared last week at the East County Senior Center to a crowd of 30 senior members.
East County Senior Center’s monthly “Lunch and Learn” series featured local pharmacist Shawnett Stenberg and Monroe Police Sgt. Ryan Irving, who gave a presentation on how to administer the anti-opioid overdose nasal spray Naloxone.
Both Stenberg and Irving have seen their share of common mistakes made with opioids and want to help educate the public on what not
to do, as well as what can be done safely.
The opioid epidemic is still reaching its climax not only nationwide (President Donald Trump declared a national health emergency over the opioid epidemic on Aug. 10, placing funding priority toward it), but also locally — right here, now, in Snohomish County.
Recent data from the Snohomish Health District revealed there were 37 opioid related-overdoses and three deaths in Snohomish County in just one week in July.
Among the 37 overdoses reported, the youngest person was 16 years old and the oldest person was 52 years old; 73 percent of the overdosed persons were identified as white; Naloxone was administered in 70 percent of the reported overdoses, saving 24 lives. The number of males and females who overdosed was split almost evenly.
While the information the Health District collected was voluntarily given and not lab-confirmed, the numbers still tell a tale of a busy July for
first responders, medical providers and community agencies.
Agencies such as the Monroe Police Department are seeing it first-hand, while pharmacies are seeing some signs of opioid abuse.
Stenberg, a cheerfully polite pharmacist from Pharm-A-Save Monroe, told the audience about how prescription opioids abuse can happen and how to combat it.
“Chronic pain affects about a third of Americans and will inflict even more for individuals…with arthritis, and the thing that is the most astounding is the amount of opioids that we in the United States have dispensed since 1999,” Stenberg said. “It’s gone up and up and up, and I think there was a trend for quite some time of, ‘have a pain, take a pill.’ So from 1999 through 2013, the use quadrupled.”
More than 650,000 opioid prescriptions are dispensed across the nation daily, Stenberg said, adding: “and I can attest to that.”
Stenberg outlined for the seniors what she called “predictable tendencies” for the older population when taking opioids for chronic pain, the most common ailment for that crowd.
She said some seniors have multiple doctors, get multiple prescriptions and fill those prescriptions at different pharmacies. While some may argue that is a harmless practice, it can also be a dangerous sign of prescription opioid abuse. The most common prescribed opioids that pharmacists like Stenberg see are oxycodone, hydrocodone, Vicodin, morphine, methadone, co-
deine, Demerol, Tramadol and Fentanyl.
Irving said the majority of the people he encounters in the field as a Monroe police officer who are addicted to heroin began with prescription opioids after a surgery or pain-inflicting medical event.
“It’s a local issue, but it’s a nationwide issue,” Irving said, adding that other trends they are seeing are finding counterfeit opioid pills coming in from Canada.
Some people will go to Canada to get cheaper pain pills, but Stenberg and Irving advised against that.
“Sometimes, these pain relievers can be too powerful and can get us into trouble,” Stenberg told the seniors. “We have to be very cautious when
using any of these products. But as we age and develop different issues like chronic pain or liver failure, it can be very touch-and-go with managing our prescriptions, especially opioids.”
The admonishment wasn’t anything new to the seniors, who were nodding along to Stenberg’s presentation. To stay safe, follow the instructions from the doctor. What piqued their interest was how to properly dispose of these kinds of drugs when finished with them.
“Why can’t I flush my old pills down the toilet?” one woman asked.
“It could contaminate the water supply,” replied Irving. Stenberg also said not to flush old pills — especially opioids — down the toilet and to instead bring them to the pharmacy’s newly installed drug take-back box.
“Remove your label, and put it in the box,” Stenberg said. “We just want you to bring them back, we don’t ask questions or look into your information,” Stenberg said. “We just want them off the street, out of the cabinets and out of the reach of others.”
Locally, kiosks have been installed at: Providence Pharmacy,19200 N Kelsey St, Monroe; the Everett Police Department, both precincts, 3002 Wetmore Ave and 1121 SE Everett Mall Way;  Kaiser Permanente Pharmacy, 2930 Maple Street in Everett; Providence Medical Center Pharmacy, 1321 Colby Ave, Everett and both Everett QFC pharmacy locations in Everett at 4919 Evergreen Way and 2615 Broadway as well as the Mukilteo Police Department, 10500 47th Place W.
Irving’s presentation focused on how to administer Naloxone in the event of an opioid overdose. The nasal spray can be inserted into the nose and squirted with an easy push. Irving walked among the crowd of seniors to show them the Naloxone spray vile. It’s also known as Narcan.
The seniors asked where they could get Naloxone, and the kits are available at local pharmacies behind the counter. One does not need a prescription to buy one.
Pharm-A-Save Monroe has a drug take-back box and is located at 17788 147th Street SE across from EvergreenHealth Hospital. The Monroe and Snohomish police departments also have drug take-back boxes.

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