Change the Community and Culture

Learn helpful ways that you can contribute to a culture

Learn helpful ways that you can contribute to a culture that reduces misuse, minimizes stigma, helps people escape addiction, and supports long-term recovery. Also, learn steps you can take to minimize misuse of drugs by safely storing or properly disposing of prescription drugs.

Changes in communities and culture don’t happen with one program or policy. It takes the combined impact of a multitude of changes by many individuals. This category of actions is organized into several sub-categories. Think about how many of these you can do to add your efforts to changing the culture to one that reduces substance misuse and increases the likelihood of people getting effective treatment and sustaining recovery for the long term.

While over 75% of the people who use heroin start with prescription drugs, many of them are mis-using drugs that were not prescribed to them. One way to minimize the misuse of prescription drugs is to make sure that if they are prescribe for your use, you are storing them safely. If you no longer need them for legitimate medical needs, dispose of them so they cannot be stolen or misused.

Safely store your prescription medications.

There are many options for safe storage, and different choices make sense for different people. Learn about different safe storage options an make the choice that works best for you.  You can contact your local pharmacy, public health department or hospital and ask if they have options for safe storage that may be provided to you at discounted prices (or perhaps even for free).

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Dispose of unused prescription medications when they are no longer needed.

Prescription drugs should not be kept for a rainy day or for possible future use.  When they are no longer needed for current, legitimate medical purposes, they should be properly disposed of.  There best disposal options for medications include:

  • Taking them to a medication drop-box or kiosk
  • Bringing them to a designated site for a Prescription Drug Take Back Day (typically twice a year in most communities—check with your local public health department),
  • Mailing them in for incineration in a non-descript envelope (which you may be able to get at a local senior center, library or from your pharmacy).

There are other options in-home disposal, such as using in-home disposal products that might be available at your pharmacy—usually for free.   It is not recommended that you throw away medications without taking special. If no other options are convenient, you can flush them down the toilet.

Talk to family members, relatives and friends about properly disposing of prescription drugs.

One way to spread your influence with simple steps is to talk to your family members about properly disposing of prescription drugs—or send out an E-mail with information about prescription drug drop boxes or take back days with a request that they dispose of any unused prescription drugs and send a reply to confirm that they have done that.  It is common for a wide range of visitors to homes to find and steal prescription drugs—so creating a culture where that option is not available is an important way to reduce people getting ensnared in addiction. Encourage your family and friends to make the community safer and reduce misuse and addiction by using appropriate disposal methods.

Be a volunteer with a community campaign to share information about safe storage and disposal to seniors.

Seniors are often prescribed many different medications—including pain pills, and far to many of the seniors don’t properly store them or dispose of them.  Seniors often lack transportation, so participating in a drug take-back day may not be convenient.  As an individual volunteer, you can help your community replicate the “You’re the Solution” campaign developed by the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention for people age 65 and older.  This campaign consists of a variety of flyers, rack-cards, placemats and social media posts that are designed for older audiences.  The campaign is designed to be implemented in any community by using a lot of volunteers and a few sponsors to pay for the cost of printing (which is kept low by consolidating many orders into large orders twice a year.  The work of implementing the campaign is broken down into many small tasks that are ideal for volunteers that want to do something but are only interested in volunteering for 3 or 4 hours of time.

Help your community start or expand an Angel Initiative for pre-arrest diversion

If your community doesn’t have an Angel program (and most don’t), you can start to spread the word and talk to your local law enforcement leaders. If there is an initial group being trained as Angels, the odds of the police department embracing the idea is much higher. There are a lot of resources to help launch or expand an Angel Initiative.

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Watch and share videos that bring out the humanity of people struggling with addiction

This action focuses on (possibly) shifting your perspective by watching videos that help you gain an appreciation for how people slipped down the slope to developing and addiction and how they struggled with treatment and recovery.  As you learn to thing about what people have gone through or what they are experiencing, you can become more empathetic and compassionate.

Be careful about the word you use.

Words matter.  When you refer to someone as an addict, you define them by their worst problem.  Instead, refer to them as a person with an addiction or a Substance Use Disorder.  This puts the emphasis on them being a person.  For this action, review the guide to how to use language that is more positive to reduce stigma and help change the culture.  Also, learn how to respectfully advise people who use stigma-inducing language to understand the importance of not speaking that way.