MANHATTAN, Kan. – Perhaps you know someone who was prescribed a powerful pain medication after knee surgery. Perhaps it helped in those first days out of the hospital. Perhaps your friend or relative healed well and quit taking the medication…. or not.
“Without a doubt, Kansas has been adversely affected by the opioid epidemic,” said Erin Yelland, Kansas State University assistant professor and extension specialist in adult development and aging. “Although we are not experiencing as many deaths due to heroin as in other states, we are flooded with an exorbitantly high number of prescription opioids.”
Approximately 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose and more are at risk, Yelland said. Like many of us, some were prescribed opioids initially as a pain management tool. Because of the risk of misuse and addiction, K-State Research and Extension educators are providing Kansans and others information about opioids.
Opioids are a class of drugs that include powerful legal prescription pain relievers that can be an important part of medical treatment, but carry the risk of addiction and overdose. The illegal drug heroin is also an opioid. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 1999 to 2015, the amount of prescription opioids dispensed in the United States nearly quadrupled, although there has been no verifiable change in the amount of pain Americans report.
“Many people are not aware that the medication they’ve been prescribed for knee pain or back pain is a highly addictive opioid,” said Yelland. She’s written a fact sheet and is featured in avideo on the topic.
Kansas is ranked No. 18 in opioid prescriptions in the U.S., with 2,579,058 opioid prescriptions dispensed in 2017, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. That amounted to 88.5 prescriptions per 100 Kansans, compared with the national average of 66.5 per 100 people.
Yelland is reaching national audiences on the topic. Just this summer she was invited to speak at the National Health Outreach Conference in Minnesota, conducted a live webinar for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and gave a presentation to the Administration on Native Americans in Alaska.
More locally, she is working with K-State Research and Extension educators in communities across Kansas to increase citizens’ awareness about opioids and the risks associated with taking them.
In southeast Kansas, Tara Solomon-Smith is one of the extension educators working with Yelland to educate Kansans. A family and consumer science agent in the Wildcat Extension District which spans four counties, Solomon-Smith has written newspaper and newsletter articles on the topic and recently was asked by a company in Labette County to make presentations to its 115 employees. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have contacted her about a potential educational collaboration about substance abuse in southeast Kansas.
Rebecca McFarland, a family and consumer science agent in the Frontier Extension District in east central Kansas helped plan a May 2 East Central Kansas Active Aging Expo in Ottawa. As part of the expo, she asked a local pharmacist, the Franklin County sheriff and the Ottawa chief of police to be part of a panel discussion on what they’ve seen locally related to opioids, plus had a display on the topic. She’s written about the threat of opioid misuse for the ‘Golden Years,’ the East Central Kansas Area Agency on Aging’s quarterly publication.
“Many of the participants at the Aging Expo didn’t realize that they had prescription opioids at home and that they didn’t know it was a potential problem,” McFarland said.
“What I have found particularly interesting is that, through our educational efforts, we have found many Kansans are taking an opioid prescription without even realizing it,” Yelland said. “Because you can become addicted in as little as seven days, it is critical that we continue to raise awareness about opioids, encourage best practices by prescribers, promote patient advocacy, and community initiatives that can help reduce opioid misuse, addiction, and overdose.”