As opioid overdoses climb, state programs prevent drugs from falling into the wrong hands

Sunday, July 25, 2021

By Annie Blake-Burke

The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the opioid epidemic in Washington, causing a "Syndemic," says Jessica Blose, the state opioid treatment authority and manager of behavioral health clinical support at the Washington State Health Care Authority (HCA).

While communities and businesses are opening up, the pandemic has left vulnerable populations more vulnerable, disrupted treatment and support systems, and left Washington residents isolated. Those factors contribute to higher risk for substance misuse and overdoses, Blose says.

Earlier this year, the Department of Health released data showing that there had been 835 overdose deaths in the first six months of 2020, up from the 607 deaths reported in the first half of 2019. Additionally, deaths from Fentanyl (often found in counterfeit pills made to look like prescription opioids) more than doubled in that time frame.

Prevention programs

These two prevention programs in Washington aim to prevent opioid addiction and overdose.

1) The MED-Project, at pharmacies statewide, makes it easy for patients to dispose of their leftover prescription drugs at a kiosk or drop box. 

Residents can enter their ZIP code at to find a location near them or order a free medication mail back envelope. MED-Project is a program managed by the Washington State Department of Health and is supported by the Health Care Authority.

2) The HCA also plans to expand an innovative safe storage program this October, to give free locking bags to patients who receive opioid prescriptions. Patients will be asked to store their medication in the locking bags and make a pledge to do so. 

The program, in partnership with dozens of pharmacies across the state, has been piloted with much success, and is part of the HCA’s opioid misuse prevention campaign, Starts with One.

Stopping misuse before it starts

These preventive programs both address the opioid epidemic “upstream,” Blose says — keeping medication out of the hands of people who weren’t prescribed them.

Removing unused medications from homes or locking them up can significantly reduce the risk of misuse and overdose. About 75% of opioid misuse begins when someone takes a medication that wasn't prescribed to them, usually from a friend or family member.


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