Raising Awareness to Prevent Prescription Opioid Overdoses

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A jumble of orange prescription pill bottles with white labels and lids.

In 2016, 115 Americans died every day from an opioid overdose – that is more than 42,000 drug overdose deaths that involved an opioid including prescription opioids, heroin, and/or illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Prescription opioids (like hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine) are prescribed by doctors to treat moderate to severe pain, but have serious risks and side effects.Using prescription opioids can have a number of side effects, even when taken as directed: • Tolerance—meaning you might need to take more of the medication for the same pain relief • Physical dependence—meaning you have symptoms of withdrawal when the medication is stopped • Increased sensitivity to pain • Constipation • Nausea, vomiting, and dry mouth • Sleepiness and dizziness • Confusion • Depression • Low levels of testosterone that can result in lower sex drive, energy, and strength • Itching and sweating

Anyone who takes prescription opioids can become addicted to them. Families across the county are dealing with the health, emotional, and economic effects of the opioid epidemic. The opioid overdose epidemic is a public health emergency and Americans of all races and ages are being killed by opioid overdoses.

Rx Awareness campaign tackles prescription opioids

Rx Awareness is CDC’s latest effort in the fight against the opioid overdose epidemic. Rx Awareness aims to:

  1. Increase Americans’ awareness and knowledge about the risks of prescription opioids, and
  2. Prevent inappropriate use of prescription opioids.

Rx Awareness uses the tagline, “It only takes a little to lose a lot” to educate the public about dangers of prescription opioids, including misuse, abuse, and overdose. The campaign features real-life accounts from people recovering from opioid use disorder and from people who have lost loved ones to prescription opioid overdose.

Public awareness campaigns, like Rx Awareness, are important in the fight against opioids. The more equipped people are with information and resources about the risks of opioids, the more we can support those affected by this epidemic. The cornerstone of Rx Awareness is a series of testimonial videos, and the campaign also includes radio advertisements, digital advertisements, billboards, posters, newspaper advertisements, and a website.

States are on the frontlines of the opioid overdose epidemic

CDC created the Rx Awareness campaign for states, coalitions, and communities to implement across the country. When the campaign was launched in 2017 it included an implementation guide to support CDC-funded states to use the campaign materials. State and local health departments and community organizations can take part in the Rx Awareness campaign and use the tested campaign materials and resources to launch local campaigns, support local prevention activities, and raise awareness about the risks of prescription opioids.

States are critical in preventing opioid overdoses. Through the Overdose Prevention in States (OPIS) effort, CDC is working with 45 states and Washington D.C. to provide scientific expertise, enhanced surveillance activities, and support resources to prevent risks of opioid use disorder, overdose, and death. The resources and information from this effort help combat prescription and illicit opioid abuse and overdose and is the heart of the CDC’s work on this epidemic.

Everyone can help stop opioid overdoses

The best ways to prevent opioid overdose are to: (1) improve opioid prescribing practices, (2) reduce exposure to opioids, (3) prevent misuse, and (4) treat opioid use disorder. Anyone can take action to help end the opioid overdose epidemic. You have a role in preventing opioid-related overdoses.

You can take steps to reduce your risk for prescription opioid misuse and help prevent opioid overdose deaths in your community:

  • Learn more about prescription opioids so you can help those at risk for opioid use disorder and overdose in your community.
  • Practice responsible use if you are prescribed opioids for pain and work with your doctor to ensure you are getting the safest, most effective pain management possible.
  • Help those struggling with addiction find the right care and treatment. Anyone who takes prescription opioids can become addicted and help is available if you or someone you know is battling opioid use disorder.
  • Spread the word and increase awareness in your community about the risk and dangers of prescription opioids. By sharing campaign materials you can broaden the reach of the message that, “It only takes a little to lose a lot.”
  • Know the signs and symptoms of an opioid overdose to help prevent opioid overdose death. If you suspect someone is overdosing, it is important that you don’t leave the person alone and that you call 911.

Learn more

We want to hear from you!

Comment below if you have you noticed the Rx Awareness campaign in your community.

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14 comments on “Raising Awareness to Prevent Prescription Opioid Overdoses”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    The Rx Awareness campaign would be great to have in every community. As a nurse in Virginia I have seen the misuse of opioids cause overdoses. Prescription opioids have several side effects and can become addicting. Educating patients on the side effects and what actions to take in the event of an overdose related to misuse of opioids could help prevent overdose. In Virginia we now have a state wide standing order for Naloxone. Anyone can get Naloxone without a prescription. This can help in opioid overdose situations.

    As a nurse, I see this to be a growing epidemic, with little to no slowing down. Raising awareness is a big factor in controlling the epidemic, but I feel that it goes much deeper than that. In NC, we have a website called, NC controlled substance registry, that the physicians can look up any patient and the amount of narcotics that have been written and that have been filled. This prevents patients from “MD shopping,” and getting an abundance of opioids. The only way to stop this epidemic ultimately, is to stop over prescribing the medications., and offering alternative options.

    The opioid crisis is plaguing America, at this point I think that launching a campaign to try and reduce narcotic misuse, abuse and overdose is well overdue. While working in the hospital I would call an MD about a patient complaining of pain and instead of coming to see the patient, they automatically put in an order for 1,2,3,4 mg of Morphine. While the effects of the narcotic worked instantly, they usually wore off pretty quickly leaving the patient in pain. This would trigger the patient to ask for more narcotics more frequently and at a higher dose. The opioid crisis starts with healthcare providers. After we discharged the patient, they were unable to get IV pain medication and many people start buying off the streets to obtain that pain control that they had in the hospital. A poll taken in 2008-2009 showed that 86% of heroin users started abusing heroin after obtaining a personal prescription from and MD. Another factor that we must consider is the amount of non pharmacological interventions used to relieve pain in the inpatient setting. Many hospitals are short staffed and this leads to nursing staff giving the narcotic as a quick fix to help end pain. While we are able to give massages, help people get up and walk around, or even educate patients on guided meditation, we simply do not have the time because our caseloads (in many cases, not all) are so heavy. This is also a factor we must consider when trying to reduce the number of instances of drug abuse, misuse and overdose.

    A side effect of the Opioid epidemic is the increasing number of children in the foster care system due to neglect as their parents are addicted to opioids.

    While something needs to be done, chronic pain patients are losing access to their much needed medication. Yes there is a problem, but campaign/epidemic is also harming legitimate pain patients. many pain patients have been on the same does for decades or longer, and have no problems with tolerance, or dependence. doctors know how to manage this as well. yes our younger generations need this awareness, but it is being directed toward everyone, including legitimate patients, and doctors are scared and cutting people off their medicines. suicide rates are skyrocketing. I have Ankloyisong spondolitis, which has no cure and is Extremely painful. my doctor is cutting all my meds, “due to the Cdc” she said. without my meds I can not get out of bed. I can not walk, I can not work, I can not take care of my kids. suicide is the only option to get any pain relief from EXTREME (it is exactly like labor pain in the spine) Pain 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

    while something needs to be done, we can not allow the pendulum to swing too far in the other direction, and im afraid it already has. please remember this, and make the guideline clear that if a patients needs their medicine to walk, and has NEVER had a problem with diversion, tolerance, or misuse in decades, then their medicines should not be touched. doctors are just cutting everyone, they are afraid!!!

    I am aware that there are a lot of people who are addicted to drugs. I am not one of them. But, no one seems to address chronic pain sufferers who at unable to get pain relief because doctors are too afraid to prescribe medications that work. Tylenol just doesn’t do it for severe pain like dry sockets or pulled muscles. Weak amounts of hydrocodone, like Lortab, don’t work either. Yet, in all of these discussions, legitimate and necessary uses for effective doses of opioids are never considered. Instead, the chronic or acute sufferer just has to suffer because of the actions of others. That is wrong.

    Opioids only mask pain. They do not resolve the root cause of pain. For musculoskeletal conditions physical therapists can analyze movement dysfunction and develop a comprehensive plan of care which encourages correcting identified dysfunctions through movement, hands on care, and patient education. Correcting the dysfunction means no pain and no need to seek pain killers.

    Caroline: Opioids DO mask pain. That is exactly the point. Musculoskeletal conditions may or may not be relieved with therapy. Even if it is effective, physical therapy takes quite a while to work. Meanwhile, the person suffering just has to suffer. If you have ever pulled a back muscle, then you know that all you want is immediate pain relief. Dental pain, like dry sockets, need strong pain relievers. There is no therapy for that. I think it is important to recognize that there are legitimate and necessary uses for effective doses of opioids. But this never comes up in a discussion of opioid use. I think that is a problem.

    Your title is misleading. As is the case for every other public health entity that writes about this highly charged subject. No one in health care or public health doubts there is over-prescribing by providers and “misuse” of prescription opioids among many patients, most of whom are poly-drug users. However, your title states that we need to raise awareness of “prescription opioid overdoses,” yet, the data you report above state that the number of deaths due to opioid overdose “involved an opioid including prescription opioids, heroin, and/or illicitly manufactured fentanyl.” I want to see your data sorted and analyzed on deaths due to “prescription” opioid overdose vs. heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl. The point I am making is that our data must be clear and accurate about the issue we are addressing in order to design effective interventions. Please report the data that distinguish between these different legal vs. illegal drugs: How many opioids deaths are due to each of these opioid-related causes: heroin – illicitly manufactured fentanyl – Rx opioids – others? There is a vast difference between a patient who misuses or overuses prescription opioids for chronic, debilitating pain that results in death vs. a heroin addict who overdoses and dies. Both deaths are unfortunate and avoidable – but they are different causal conditions. Thus, our data, discussion, and approach to each must differ.

    I am a chronic pain sufferer due to a car accident which almost resulted in the removal of my foot. I have severe nerve pain and RA. I have been through 7 surgeries to repair my ankle/foot, and while there have been improvements, the pain remains. It is like walking on a hot plate every step I take. I didn’t realize the depressed/suicidal state I was in until now due to the pain. If I had not found relief in a combination of opioid and nerve meds like gabapentin and cymbalta, that I don’t know where I would be today. I am still able to work full time and be a productive member of society. What is happening isn’t going to fix the issue. All that will happen is you will force people underground to get these drugs illegally and will cause more deaths due to the unregulated creation of the drug. Haven’t we learned anything yet? The war on drugs does not work. If you say something is bad for people it only makes kids want to do it even more. I personally could not function without these meds. The pain is so physically and mentally exhausting. We should not be restricting these nests to people who truly need them to help improve their quality of life. All any of us want it to not hurt every second of every day. I would gladly trade shoes with any of you. Spend one day in my shoes and you would say the same thing. We are not the issue here. I work very hard with my pain manage my specialist to get to the minimum amount needed to improve my quality of life. These rules should be education to the public not enforced by the government. All people she keep all medicines out of the hands of people who aren’t prescribed them. If doctors would spend more time with their patients they would be able to identify the seekers and weed them out. Insurance providers the same thing. They have a list of all the drugs people get. This should be the responisbikybif the consumers on the CDC or government. We need to take back our responsibilities and hold ourselves accountable for this issue. Not make it harder for people who truly need this to live a more normal life.

    Being a nurse on the intensive care floor the opioid crisis is increasing. I am seeing an increase of patients coming in with drug overdoses both street and prescribed. I think there needs to be more awareness and communication between healthcare systems to decrease the dispense of opioids and educate those receiving the medications.

    Great post! Thanks for your useful advice. I hope your suggestions will beneficial to all of us. Keep posting & sharing!

    Prevention of opioid use is the key to combating the opioid epidemic, limiting initial exposure is a fundamental element in the fight. The epidemic has experienced a shift in opioids being abused which has been a direct result of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs and the CDC’s Opioid Prescribing Guidelines, the decrease in prescribed opioid related overdose has seen a decrease in recent years, as heroin and fentanyl have increased at an alarming rate. The United States at the state and federal level now have to shift their focus on the illicit drug market, and combat heroin and fentanyl use. The opioid epidemic is no longer just a prescribed opioid problem, it is leading to abuse of legal, illegal and natural alternatives that produce opioid like effects. Although RX Awareness is an important step to educating citizens, the CDC will need to shift their focus as the epidemic continues to spiral in different directions. Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) and availability of Naloxone, will be key to preventing deaths, but is not a solution to the epidemic. Continuing to expand education of opioids negative effects, like RX Awareness is a step in the right direction, but there is now an immediate need to address the shift in illicit opioid use, abuse and overdose.

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Page last reviewed: April 30, 2018
Page last updated: April 30, 2018