Preventing Opioid Abuse in Your Family and Community

During Self-Harm Awareness Month in March, Macomb County Community Mental Health encourages awareness and openness about substance use disorders.

When news cycles repeat worrying numbers regarding drug-related deaths from opioid use, parents can’t help but fear that a loved one will be affected. As with most parenting challenges, the more you know, the better prepared you’ll be to help keep your family safe. March is Self-Harm Awareness Month, and it’s a good time to learn about how to prevent opioid misuse and abuse in your family and community.

“The best prevention is to have knowledge and to talk with your kids,” says Dawn Radzioch, a prevention coordinator at Macomb County Community Mental Health. It’s a big topic, so plan to have frequent family discussions, Radzioch suggests. “We’d rather a parent talk to their kids in 60 one-minute conversations, rather than one 60-minute conversation. The more you address this topic, the more your child will understand the repercussions.”

Widespread incidents of drug-related deaths across the country and the state are largely caused by the use of synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, in addition to the abuse of prescription medications, according to Andrew Fortunato, SOR grant coordinator with the Macomb County Office of Substance Abuse.

“The good news is Macomb County is No. 1 for treatment admissions across the state,” Fortunato says. “We identify and admit more people into treatment programs and provide a service for them more than any other region.”

Treatment programs in Macomb County

New initiatives in Macomb County assist providers in identifying individuals and linking them with the appropriate level of care.

For example, a program called Project ASSERT embeds trained individuals who are in recovery themselves into a hospital setting to talk with individuals who arrive in an emergency department under the influence of drugs. The peer can talk with the patient and plant the seed for getting further help, Radzioch says.

“By having the peer as part of the team, it helps generalize the fact that anyone can have a substance use problem but there are many roads to get better and be successful in society again,” she says.

Another program provides medication-assisted treatment in the Macomb County jail, then links the individual with support for the vulnerable time following incarceration. Also, state grant-funded “opioid health homes” bring together physical and behavioral health treatments in a one-stop-shop scenario for those seeking recovery at their current medication-assisted provider.

Awareness increases understanding of drug dangers

High profile lawsuits and overall increased awareness of the addictive nature of prescription opioids have resulted in fewer drugs being prescribed, Radzioch says. Fewer drugs out in the community translates into fewer prescriptions that can be misappropriated – or used by someone other than the prescribed patient.

Families can help keep drugs from getting into the wrong hands by taking unused medications to one of more than a dozen locations participating in DEA Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on April 25, 2020. Find a location at or through Macomb County at Or learn about permanent drug drop box locations throughout Macomb County at Macomb County Community Mental Health Office of Substance Abuse, or

Knowing that substance misuse and abuse aren’t solely a younger-generation issue helps parents recognize potential overuse in their own elderly relatives.

“Sometimes older adults will take their morning medication and forget and retake it, causing unintentional overuse levels in their bodies. Also, an inherent trust in doctors, especially in older populations might create a mindset of, ‘my doctor gave this to me, it’s got to be OK,'” Fortunato says.

It’s never a bad idea to have someone monitoring opioid drug use, no matter the age of the user, and to keep the drugs out of the reach of young children, Radzioch adds.

Augment school-based prevention education

Drug prevention is part of required health curricula in schools, but parents may not hear much from their kids about what they learn. Don’t be afraid to ask your school what is being taught so you can supplement with some family conversations. Attend any parent education sessions to learn how to talk with your kids about drugs and substance use disorders.

“Kids don’t start with heroin. They start with alcohol, pot, and vaping, which all impact their brain development,” Radzioch says. For kids, the active ingredient in marijuana stimulates the same receptors as opiates do later in life, she says. “Some people in recovery say they started smoking and drinking in middle school.”

As much as Macomb County funds and promotes drug prevention programs in schools, they never replace the parent’s role in educating kids.

“A parent is the No. 1 influencer of children,” Fortunato says. “It’s easy to say they will cover it in school so you don’t have to have that uncomfortable conversation, but it’s so important to talk in an honest and open way from an early age because you want them to be able to come to you when they need to.”

Content brought to you by Macomb County Community Mental Health. For more information, visit


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