America’s opioid epidemic is indeed worsening and drug deaths are rising faster than ever, but a local group is working hard to change that trajectory.
“There are a lot of problems with opiates right now. We’re finding out that kids are finding their parents and grandparents’ medication and using it,” says Charlie Daniel, the Falls Prevention/Drug Poisoning Prevention Coordinator for Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County. “A lot of the older people aren’t using it but the kids are using it and it’s leading to some serious problems. We want to get it out of the medicine cabinets.”
Daniels is doing what she does very well in the greater Madison community – outreaching to the African-American community – and is asking community members to bring in their old and unused medications this Sunday to four area African-American churches that are participating in this initiative – Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Fountain of Life Church, St. Paul AME Church, and Revival Pentecostal Church.
“We’re going to be focusing on the African-American churches and I’m going to be doing what is called a ‘Med Drop Sunday’ where people can drop off their old and unused medications as they go to church,” Daniel tells Madison365. “Like I said, we want to get it out of people’s medicine cabinets.”
But make sure that it’s not something you actually need, right?
“Haha. Yes, exactly,” Daniel laughs. “We want the old and expired medications.”
Police will be at all four churches witnessing the drop offs, Daniel adds.
Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County is a local non-profit coalition that brings together public and private sector partners to save lives, prevent injuries and make the community a safer place. Their core areas of work correspond to the community’s top causes of injury and injury-related death: traffic safety, pedestrian safety, child safety, drug poisoning prevention, falls prevention, and suicide prevention.
In 2015, more than 52,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is an average of one death every ten minutes. Approximately 33,000 of these fatal overdoses — nearly two-thirds of them — were from opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin. Daniel is specifically working with Safe Communities to raise awareness about opiates.
“I have a coalition called the African American Opiate Coalition and it’s a coalition of about 18-20 African Americans in the city working on this problem,” Daniel says. “It’s really becoming a big problem; a big epidemic. People are dying from overdoses every day. People are using pain medications. Doctors are so readily giving out pain medication. We’re working a case right now where a 12-year-old kid went to the dentist to have dental work done and the dentist gave him Vicodin. Now, this kid is hooked on Vicodin.”
The opiate epidemic in the United States is largely a white one, but if affects many African-Americans, too. Historically, black and brown people have been criminalized for their trauma and addiction and not necessarily seen as a “medically challenged population” and given relief and sympathy like the white population is now with the opioid epidemic. Daniel notices the huge difference.
“In the 80s and 90s it was the crack epidemic and it was mostly only African Americans – and they sent them to jail,” she says. “Once the opiates and heroin came out, all you saw was a young, blonde girl ODing with her two kids in the car. And what do they say? ‘Send her to treatment! Don’t send her to jail.’ So there is a huge difference in how it is being treated.
“This opioid epidemic also affect African Americans and Latinos, too. We don’t want anybody going to jail for this,” she adds. “It’s an illness. We’re trying to help as many people as we can.”