It Takes a Community to Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse

February 22, 2013

It Takes a Community to Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse

By Laura Fitzpatrick, Drug Free Program Manager and Advocacy Liaison, Muskegon Community Health Project


Founded in 1997, the Muskegon Community Health Project (MCHP), the local community benefit office of Mercy Health Partners hospital, is nationally known for their health access initiatives which are steeped in community collaborative groups. Muskegon’s collaborative has 65 members from 38 local organizations including those from public health, education, law enforcement, court officials, substance abuse agencies, and health care, student organizations, and a variety of community based organizations.

At the outset, MCHP focused on tobacco and alcohol, forming the Tobacco Reduction Coalition and the Muskegon Alcohol Liability Initiative, an alcohol prevention law enforcement taskforce under the Coalition for a Drug Free Muskegon County.

The coalition began by sponsoring smoke-free restaurant and workplace initiatives, which ultimately paved the way for a smoke-free Michigan.

They also worked on policy, student education efforts, and enhanced law enforcement efforts for both alcohol and tobacco, resulting in substantial declines in student use. Both community-led and supported initiatives steered many youths away from tobacco and alcohol use and abuse and helped them remain happy and healthy.

After several years focusing on alcohol and tobacco, our community turned its attention to prescription drug abuse prevention. The Coalition for A Drug Free Muskegon County, which was originally funded in 2005 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association’s (SAMSHA) Drug Free Communities (DFC) program, conducted a youth survey in 2009 that found that 17.4 percent of youth were trying medications that were not prescribed to them due to easy access. In addition, our law enforcement members reported an increase in residential break-ins especially by those seeking prescription drugs.

At the same time, other groups started looking at “take-back” programs that allow people to get rid of unneeded and unwanted drugs safely with no questions asked. Take-back programs are supported nationally by the ONDCP as excellent opportunities to reduce access to controlled substances.

In addition, Lakeshore Health Network, the local physician member service organization, began investigating ways to provide education to physician offices on how to monitor prescription drug use and abuse.

As multiple community organizations and resources were focused on take-back programs and prescription drug abuse, we quickly recognized an opportunity to serve multiple purposes with a single process. In September 2009, the Muskegon Area Medication Disposal Project (MAMDP) met for the first time, establishing the need to address this issue. The solution was to create several opportunities for our community to dispense with their drugs safely and securely.

MAMDP held our inaugural event in February of 2010 at a local fire station. We were overwhelmed by the public’s response: 150 participants dropped off 500 pounds on the first day.

Since then, we have hosted 11 events at multiple fire stations, established permanent drop sites throughout the county and collected over three tons of medications.

Of the 7,300 pounds of materials collected in the past two years, 30 percent was over the counter medications, approximately 18 percent comprised cardiovascular medications, 10 percent were diabetic medications and 10 percent, or 810 pounds, were controlled or unknown substances. We also collected 475 pounds of sharps or used needles.

In addition to collecting, we took the process one step further by counting and classifying everything we collected to help inform and then change consumer, systems and local practices when it came to prescribing drugs. We wanted to reduce the source of medications, which would reduce the ability to abuse these prescriptions. We also conducted participant surveys of those dropping the medications off to inform media messaging and better serve the community.

In 2011, the Muskegon Area Medication Disposal Project established permanent multiple collection sites at area pharmacies and law enforcement agencies which now provide a more sustained approach. The future local project continues to build upon its successes and strives to keep educating the community and connecting with local resources.

“The numbers tell a compelling story that you have a hard time disputing”, says Joe Graftema, PharmD, Mercy Health Partners Inpatient Pharmacy Manager and a long time MAMDP leader who coordinates the substance counting and classifying at the one day events. “We’ve been able to inform physicians, hospital leaders, pharmacists and health plan managers who can and have changed their practices or policies.”

At a recent physicians education seminar put together by the project partner Lakeshore Health Network, the MAMDP members were encouraged by the physician response.

“We were impressed at the engagement and interest that the doctors had in changing their prescribing behaviors based upon the information from our disposal project” said MAMDP Chair Carrie Uthe. “They were so surprised about the amount of waste that unused medications were creating and the other safety and environmental issues.”

Many communities throughout the country take advantage of federal prevention funding that comes in the form of community building and collaborative organizing through the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s (ONDCP) Drug Free Communities Support Program. The premise of the DFC program is simple – that communities around the country must be organized and equipped to collaboratively deal with their individual substance abuse problems in a comprehensive and coordinated manner.

DFC is a collaborative initiative, sponsored by ONDCP, in partnership with SAMHSA, which works to achieve two goals:

  • Establish and strengthen collaboration among communities, public and private non-profit agencies, and Federal, State, local, and tribal governments to support the efforts of community coalitions working to prevent and reduce substance use among youth.
  • Reduce substance use among youth and, over time, reduce substance abuse among adults by addressing the factors in a community that increase the risk of substance abuse and promoting the factors that minimize the risk of substance abuse.

DFC grantees are required to work toward these two goals as the primary focus of their Federally funded effort and they use a variety of ways to achieve local change in their respective communities. While the program offers direction and guidance to its grantees, it is up to the community on how they will achieve the change.

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