CHESTERTOWN — In seeking to raise awareness about the opioid abuse epidemic with the monthlong Kent Goes Purple campaign, we turn our eyes here to learning how to properly manage an opioid prescription, the signs of a growing dependency and the symptoms of full-blown addiction.
The epidemic that has hit Kent County, as it has the Eastern Shore, the state of Maryland and the rest of the country, is rooted in the prescription of painkillers and a lack of education.
“A lot of people become addicted, not on purpose, but because they are trying to treat their pain and they haven’t been educated enough about the dangers,” said Kent County Sheriff John F. Price in a previous interview about the roots of the opioid epidemic.
Annette Duckery is the alcohol and other drugs prevention coordinator for Kent County Behavioral Health. Alice Barkley is a licensed clinical social worker with the office. Duckery and Barkley, along with Price, offered insights this week into what to look for in a loved one who may be struggling with addiction.
To start, when given a prescription for opioid medication from a doctor, talk with him or her about the proper usage and the risks such drugs pose. Talk about whether or not your family has a history of substance abuse.
“Communication is always important,” Duckery said.
Duckery said that communication should extend between parents and children. She said when a child is prescribed an opioid, parents should talk about the risks of misuse and clearly state that the pills should not be shared with anyone.
She said parents should control access to the pills, monitoring the quantity and how often they are taken.
“They should not be kept in the medicine cabinet where family or visitors can have access. They should be locked up,” Duckery said.
Again, communication is important, Duckery said. She said parents should talk with their children about the level of pain they may be experiencing and be on the alert for any signs of dependency.
Overdoses do not happen only to addicts. It is important to closely follow doctor’s directions for prescription medications.
“A good idea would be to take it at the same time and to use a pill box that you can check to see if you have taken it,” Duckery said.
She also recommends using one pharmacy for all your prescriptions and consulting with your pharmacist about any other medications, including over-the-counter, you may be taking.
“Two different medications can have the same active ingredient or may not be compatible,” Duckery said. “Your pharmacist will know of any contraindications.”
When the pills are no longer needed, make sure they are disposed of properly. The sheriff’s office, the Chestertown Police Department and the Rock Hall Police Department will accept any unused medication for disposal.
“You can also call the prevention office for other drug disposal options that are available for in-home use,” Duckery said.
Duckery said there is no one factor that can predict abuse. She said everyone should be aware of their own history and potential for abuse.
“Things like age, gender, and mental health (issues) like depression, anxiety, and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) can increase the likelihood. The dangers of abuse are always concerning with someone under 25 as the brain is still developing and therefore at a greater risk for dependence,” Duckery said.
If your child is asking for medication more frequently than prescribed or is adamant about having it refilled, those are warning signs of a growing dependency, Duckery said.
Duckery said physical signs of dependency include withdrawal symptoms like sweating, irritability, mood swings, anxiety, loss of appetite, runny nose, vomiting and diarrhea, while slurred speech, drowsiness, constipation and nausea are signs of misuse.
“Figuring out if your child is using drugs or alcohol can be extremely challenging. Many of the signs and symptoms can mimic typical young adult behavior,” Duckery said.
Barkley said the not-so-physical evidence of misuse can be seen when someone is experiencing negative consequences resulting from their behavior. She said misuse can impact relationships, jobs and finances. She said there may be legal ramifications, or emotional and spiritual impacts.
“The more severe and frequent the negative impact is, the more of a problem it is just like anything that is toxic,” Barkley said.
There are plenty of stories to be shared about those who were able to keep their addiction under wraps and continue working and going to school for a long time before anyone knew something was wrong.
“People may attempt to manage their substance use to prevent negative consequences by being self-aware of the potential risks of increased substance use, increasing sober activity, socializing with people who are positive, healthy communication with supportive people, and/or attending counseling,” Barkley said.
Earlier this year, the sheriff’s office bought and outfitted a trailer to look like a typical teen’s bedroom. Using seized drug funds and helped by a Kent County Detention Center staff member with carpentry skills and donations from Washington College, the sheriff’s office now is able to offer parents a look at where teens might hide their drugs.
In an interview this week, Price said parents should search their children’s rooms. He said they might find evidence of drug use in the corner of a sandwich bag, from wire Brillo pads and from bits of tissue or paper towel with blood spots on them.
“It’s always a good idea to check the trashcan. Don’t be afraid to look under the bed, under the mattress. Don’t be afraid to search the child’s room,” Price said.
He said while everyone is entitled to their privacy, parents do need to check up on their teenagers.
Duckery highlighted the Hope Trailer and the information parents can learn by visiting it.
“Common items like books, soda cans, air fresheners and mints can be related to drug and alcohol use. Parents can see where drugs are hidden in plain sight and learn some of the signs to look for in their homes and in their children. It is an eye-opening experience and a great way to start the conversation,” she said.
Barkley said that if you suspect a family member, friend or loved one is struggling with addiction, first be understanding and accepting. She said be supportive, share resources and information and maintain healthy communication. Additional steps include attending group meetings like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon, setting limits and practicing the Serenity Prayer.
Take it one day at a time, Barkley said, and stay in the present instead of holding on to resentments.
“For anyone to change the struggling has to be motivated to change, the family member needs to be patient,” Barkley said.
For more information and resources on addiction and Kent Goes Purple, visit www.kentgoespurple.org, www.myeasternshoremd.com/kent_county_news/extras/purple and iwishiknewmidshore.org.
For information on the Kent County Health Department and Kent County Behavioral Health, visit kenthd.org.
The sheriff’s office’s Hope Trailer is available for organizations seeking to raise awareness. To schedule an appearance, contact Price at 410-778-2279 or Ginger Gregg in the Kent County Office of Emergency Services at 410-778-7472.