Saira A. Jan, M.S., Pharm.D, is a clinical professor at Rutgers University Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy. Dr. Jan recently presented the Pharmacy School’s ‘Opioid Abuse Toolkit: Resources for New Jersey Communities’ to community and provider representatives from Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County, three regions involved in the Quality Institute’s Healthy Communities create Healthy Citizens project, generously funded by the United Health Foundation.
Why did you create a toolkit to help communities battle the opioid crisis?
This is a problem in our state. One out of four people who receive prescription opioids long term for non-cancer related conditions struggles with addiction, and over 1,000 people are treated daily in American emergency departments for misusing opioids. We had about 1900 people die in New Jersey last year. The solution is not just treatment. We need to address the opioid crisis through both treatment and prevention.
Where did the idea for the toolkit come from and what makes it unique?
Initially, a group called Community in Crisis, based in Somerset County, identified the need for the tool kit. Later on, we worked closely with various providers and developed presentations and materials to meet the needs of the audience. Students, under my guidance, developed the toolkit and they are the age group we want to engage with the materials. That’s novel. That’s important because we need to have peer discussions on this topic. The ambassadors of this program are young students, and we are engaging different departments at Rutgers to start a university-wide movement.
In your role at the Pharmacy School, you led a team of students and faculty to create the free toolkit. Can you tell us how the toolkit works?
The toolkit educates different communities, ages and populations — from parents to teens to providers and local businesses. For instance, we help providers identify who should be treated with opioids and what providers need to know about New Jersey’s new opioid law. We’ve created a quick checklist: “If I am going to write a prescription for opioids, these are the things I should check before writing a prescription.”
We have information about medication storage, Naloxone training, and drug take-back days. We want to educate young people in middle and high schools about what addiction actually does to your body. We have the signs indicating your child may be using drugs. We have posters, fliers and other free materials such as supplemental posters and presentations on how to increase awareness through social media. The toolkit is continually updated based on requests. It’s turnkey. Anyone can use our assets without cost.
You’ve spoken about different prescribing practices in Europe versus the United States. Can you explain?
In Europe, providers do not prescribe opioids as liberally as we do in the United States. Here, opioids often are given when they are not really needed. That’s why I think the new opioid legislation in New Jersey is so important. Why give a 30-day opioid supply for a fracture or tooth extraction or even hysterectomy? I am not saying the Europe does not have a drug problem. They have a heroin problem and problems with other drugs bought on the street, but less of Europe’s drug problems are connected to prescription drugs.
The Quality Institute’s Mayors Wellness Campaign is interested in using the toolkit, and so are many communities. Do you think the toolkit and other efforts can make a difference, or is the problem not solvable?
I am optimistic that we can deal with the opioid issue. We really need to educate communities and families about the facts and make sure that people really understand the consequences of using drugs. But it’s not just one area that can solve this. We have to collaborate and address this issue at the grass root level and providers, insurers, pharmaceutical companies and regulatory agencies all have to work together — not only to provide effective treatment but to deploy resources in the community to focus on prevention. We have to take strong measures, change prescribing behaviors, and provide resources to combat this crisis together.