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By Rebecca Smith

Last week, this headline from Vox News caught my eye: “Drug companies shipped nearly 21 million opioid painkillers to a town with 2,900 people.”

That takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

The town is Williamson, West Virginia. West Virginia has suffered the most overdose deaths per capita than any other state in the country. And a big contributor was simply the fact that there were so many drugs there to abuse.

Opioid overdoses are such an issue that a healthcare system in Illinois started requiring last month that doctors prescribe Naloxone with their opioid prescriptions. Naloxone reverses opioid overdoses.

It’s safe to say that opioids can be dangerous and highly addictive. Several pharmaceutical companies have been sued for marketing these drugs as non-addictive. The country is struggling with how to deal with this crisis that kills thousands of people every year.

There are people out there who are already trapped in addiction and will need treatment. We at Next Step are trying to prevent addiction before it ever starts.

Here’s the facts that inform our strategies:

First, two-thirds of teens who misused pain relievers in the past year say that they got them from family and friends, including their home’s medicine cabinets, according to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. According to the Prevention Resource Center in Longview, 7-12th grade students in East Texas have the highest reported rate in the state for misusing prescription opioids.

Second, simply having easy access is a risk factor for addiction and overdoses in the community. Hence West Virginia’s problem after having more than 200 times the prescriptions than there are people in Williamson.

So, here’s how you can help this issue: One, lock up your medications and keep a log of how much you have. Two, safely dispose of your prescription medications. You can take them to a prescription drug disposal box in your area, use a special disposal bag, or mix them with used coffee grounds or cat litter to make them undesirable before you throw them away. And if you have children, talk to them about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. Most teens say that their parents’ disapproval is the No. 1 deciding factor in whether they will try drugs or alcohol.

RX 3 Steps Infographic

If we all do our part to make sure there are fewer prescription drugs sitting in medicine cabinets, it can go a long way to preventing future addiction in our communities.