Community Leaders, Health Experts Unite to Fight Opioid Abuse

Public health and community leaders agree: the best way to fight opioid abuse is with a united front.

Public health officials met with community and business leaders to discuss opioid abuse in Pinellas County and to find the best way to combat the problem.

They found that there’s plenty of information available and work being done, but much of that is done independently with no sharing of information or coordination among stakeholders, said John Parker, senior vice president of communications for the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, the founding member of Allied Against Opioid Abuse. AAOA and the Tampa Bay Healthcare Collaborative sponsored the roundtable discussion, which met earlier this month in Largo.

The multidisciplinary roundtable included representatives from the Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, the Florida Academy of Pain Medicine, Florida Voices for Health, the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County, the Pinellas County Osteopathic Medical Society, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, Sunstar Paramedics and the Tampa Bay Healthcare Collaborative, with the support of AARP Florida and the Florida Association of Early Learning Coalitions.

The goal is to bring all stakeholders together to work on a united response to solving the opioid epidemic.

“AAOA is encouraged by the commitment and response from partners across the broader Tampa Bay and Largo communities in the fight against opioid abuse,” Parker said. “Through these collaborations, we can make a meaningful difference in reversing this crisis and supporting patients, consumers and families in local communities.”

One such collaboration, an “opioid summit,” is scheduled for Saturday (April 28) on Clearwater Beach. Like the recent roundtable, the summit will give stakeholders from across the spectrum a chance to trade information about the crisis, what’s being done, and suggest ways to combat it.

John Peterson, the chief operating officer of Sunstar Paramedics, Pinellas County’s ambulance service, agreed that collaboration is needed.

“As first responders, we are on the frontlines of tackling opioid abuse and misuse, a health crisis that can have devastating results,” Peterson said. “Learning how other sectors of our community are addressing prescription opioid abuse gives us a broader view of the recovery and prevention resources available to patients once they leave the ambulance.”

With the amount of news about the opioid crisis, it might seem counterintuitive to think that many do not know the dangers of the drugs. However, according to a recent national poll, an estimated one in three people said they were unaware of the need to dispose of leftover prescription opioids. Recent data also point to a growing percentage of individuals who abuse prescription opioids upon receiving them for free from a friend or family member. Understanding these critical intersections can help community partners take a more proactive role in preventing abuse and misuse before it occurs.

AAOA has worked with its national partners to create online resources and tools to help educate consumers about safe use, storage and disposal of prescription opioids. The coalition is working with local organizations, like those gathered at the roundtable, to ensure these resources and information are reaching the patients, family members and caregivers who need them.

“Opioid abuse is one of Pinellas County’s most pressing health issues, one we will solve only by everyone working together,” said Lori James, the chief development officer of the Tampa Bay Healthcare Collaborative. “Bringing together stakeholders, advocates and healthcare providers, like we have done today, allows us to share best practices and discover opportunities for collaboration on reducing opioid abuse. We are grateful to Allied Against Opioid Abuse for partnering with us to address prescription opioid abuse and misuse throughout Tampa Bay.”

For information about Allied Against Opioid Abuse, go to

This article was originally published in the Tampa Bay Reporter.