May 12–18 is National Prevention Week, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Every year during this time, communities and organizations across the country work together to raise awareness about the importance of substance abuse prevention and positive mental health. In recognition of National Prevention Week, Allied Against Opioid Abuse (AAOA) sat down with John Schall, CEO of Caregiver Action Network (CAN), an AAOA partner organization, to discuss the role that family caregivers play in preventing the misuse and abuse of prescription opioids.
AAOA: This week is National Prevention Week and the theme is “Inspiring Action, Changing Lives.” Could you talk about how caregivers embody that theme?
John Schall: Family caregivers certainly do embody that theme and are a vital part of preventing opioid abuse. Often, caregivers are with the patient 24/7, and if not, they are usually around the patient more than anyone else. These caregivers can notice normal symptoms, but can also call attention to symptoms that may not be immediately clear to those not always around the patient. These signs are often the most important and should be addressed by a healthcare provider.
AAOA: How can caregivers work with prescribers and pharmacists to ensure that they have the best information for the patient on prescription opioids?
Schall: Family caregivers are encouraged to work with prescribers and pharmacists to not only make sure that the patient is taking the correct dosage of medication, but also that they are safely storing and disposing their prescription opioids. CAN has resources to help caregivers navigate privacy concerns related to communicating with a patient’s healthcare provider. Organizations like AAOA can help caregivers be vigilant about safely storing and disposing opioids — and keep prescription opioids out of the wrong hands.
AAOA: What advice would you give to a new caregiver?
Schall: First and foremost, I would say, “You are not alone.” In fact, two out of every five adults today are providing care for a friend or loved one — we are as common as people with brown eyes! Yet, there is still a feeling of being overwhelmed and too often, caregiving is associated with anxiety, depression and other conditions for the caregiver.
I recommend that caregivers start by making a file for their loved one that includes prescriptions, medical information and contact information for healthcare providers. This will be incredibly helpful as you visit different providers and monitor the health of your loved one. We also recommend that caregivers attend medical appointments with a list of questions and take careful notes to help keep their loved ones as healthy as possible.
AAOA: What resources are available from CAN to help caregivers navigate their responsibilities and network with others in a similar situation?
Schall: CAN hosts a Care Community Forum, where individuals can anonymously post their concerns and ask questions to peers facing similar situations. The forum has been tremendously valuable for many caregivers who want suggestions and support during challenging times. We also host a Family Caregiver Toolbox, with resources that will help support our suggestions around building a patient file and a medication checklist. We also promote and distribute AAOA resources for caregivers addressing prescription opioids — particularly fact sheets on the safe storage and disposal of prescription opioids. To learn more about Caregiver Action Network, visit caregiveraction.org.
Note: Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.