Point of View

Three things we learned at Opioid Summit 2021

August 24, 2021
As communities work to address the impacts of the pandemic, addressing both physical and behavioral health has been an important part of the conversation. The Washington State Health Care Authority (HCA) recently hosted the 2021 Opioid Summit. This virtual event brought together community leaders from across the Pacific Northwest working to prevent and treat opioid misuse.

Michelle, Mallory and I were honored to attend and present about the ways in which DH has partnered with HCA to help prevent opioid misuse in communities across Washington. We also learned so much from community leaders working in this space every day. We want to share some of the key takeaways and insights from the conference.

1. Engaging specific communities.

Mallory and I presented on the topic of how mindful communications strategies can help move us toward health equity based on the work we are doing on our Starts with One, Tribal and Suicide Prevention campaigns. We talked about how the campaign has been working with LatinX and African American communities to develop relevant and effective communications about safe opioid use in a collaborative and inclusive way. One theme that came up a few times was the importance of equipping communities of color with the tools they need to advocate for their needs and ask for more from their provider in a health care ecosystem that remains biased towards individuals of color. This is an important focus for the Starts with One campaign as we develop new messaging and tools with communities of color throughout our state.

2. Risks for older adults.

Older Adults have always had the highest rate of prescribing, and we know that the longer someone is taking an opioid, the more at risk they are of developing opioid use disorder (OUD). Alicia Hughes, Strategic Development and Policy Supervisor at the HCA, gave a great presentation focusing on this audience and shared some of the statistics that prompted a focus on older adults when it comes to opioid misuse:

  1. Most older adults take at least one prescription medication. (Central East Addiction Technology Transfer Center, 2006)
  2. 40% of older adults report pain.
  3. By 2030, there will be 71 million adults older than 60 in the US and most will have at least one chronic health condition.
  4. By 2030, SAMHSA estimated that one third of adults 55 years of age and older will have a substance use disorder.


Additionally, Alicia pointed out that there are many things that put older adults at risk for developing a substance use disorder, including:

  • Changes in daily routines, such as going into retirement
  • Facing isolation from family and peers
  • Experiencing grief and loss
  • Managing increased health problems
  • Struggling with the loss of independence
  • Managing financial changes

We learned about a few programs that are helping to curb OUD by building up protective factors against addiction such as social connectivity, active lifestyles, positive community norms, support in times of need and improving access to treatment and support for mental and emotional wellbeing as people age.

3. Prescriptions from providers.

There’s still work to be done when it comes to how and when providers prescribe opioids. This was a point made in several presentations and while there are programs in place, such as the University of Washington TelePain Program and the Prescription Monitoring Program, to help address overprescribing (both accidental and not) there’s still work to do here.  Pharmacists also play an important role as trusted message carriers in the community. DH and HCA have been working closely with pharmacists as part of the Starts with One campaign’s Pharmacy Safe Storage Program, partnering with pharmacies across the state to drive conversations with patients receiving opioid prescriptions about the importance of locking up those medications in their home to prevent misuse. The program also provides pharmacies with free locking bags to distribute to patients who need an easy way to lock up their medications. Michelle’s presentation at the Summit covered the logistics of the Pharmacy Safe Storage Program and the incredible results we saw (spoiler alert, lots of people locked up their meds!) when we piloted this unique approach to social change marketing at three pharmacies last year. This year, the program is expanding to even more pharmacies across the state.

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