Talk About Your Medicines Month

October marks the BeMedWise Program at NeedyMeds’ 34th Talk About Your Medicines Month (TAYMM). This is an annual opportunity to focus attention on the value that enhanced provider-patient communication about medicines can play in promoting safe and appropriate medicine use and improved health outcomes. Communication is a two-way street: consumers benefit from being proactive in asking questions and seeking information about their medicines, and healthcare providers in turn must be able to share medical information in a meaningful way that their patients are able to understand and act on.

 

This year’s theme for TAYMM is Preventing Opioid Misuse and Abuse Across the Ages. Opioids are a class of drugs that act on certain receptors in the central and peripheral nervous system and are often prescribed to relieve acute moderate to severe pain. Opioids are used recreationally for their euphoric effects and long-term use can build a tolerance, meaning that increased doses are required to achieve the same effect, and physical dependence, meaning that abruptly discontinuing the drug leads to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. A person with an addiction and  a growing tolerance is at risk of experiencing an opioid overdose. Opioids were involved in 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017 (67.8% of all drug overdose deaths).

The opioid epidemic persists, whether you live in a large city, affluent suburb or rural community. On average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. The dedicated TAYMM website features tips, fact sheets and a library of resources for patients, healthcare providers and caregivers, focused on preventing the misuse and abuse of opioid medications

Tips include:

  • How and why you should keep all of your medicines up and away and out of reach of your toddlers 
  • The important conversations you should have with your kids, teens, and college students about responsible medicine use
  • How to recognize and resolve problems that may occur when an older adult you are caring for is prescribed an opioid medication. 

 

Help protect your family and learn about the risks, responsibilities, safe use, storage and disposal of opioids. Responsible use includes learning about other treatment options and non-opioid alternatives that may be a better choice for either you or a loved one who are experiencing pain from an injury, medical condition, or surgery.

We encourage patients everywhere to talk to their doctors and/or their pharmacists about the medications they are taking, especially if they are taking prescribed opioid medications, about any questions or concerns they have. Be sure to take your medications as directed by your doctor and do not hesitate to discuss any side effects you may experience. 

World Mental Health Day

For over 25 years, the first full week of October has been Mental Illness Awareness Week. World Mental Health Day falls on October 10. This year, our blog has observed Mental Health Month in May, Minority Mental Health Month in July, and Suicide Prevention Month/Week/Day in September. We continue to discuss mental health because it is crucial to public health.

 

Twenty percent of the population — as many as 65.9 million Americans live with some kind of mental health condition, with nearly 5% living with a serious mental illness that substantially limits their life activities. Those living with mental illness fight stigma while trying to survive under intense  internal duress. Awareness is important so that resources are made available to those who need them and the stigma and misconceptions surrounding mental illnesses can be reduced.

 

Everyone has stress and difficult emotions on occasion, and this is completely normal. Mental illness, however, is any condition that makes it difficult to function in daily life. It can affect relationships or job performance, and is caused by any number of complex interactions within the human brain. Mental illness can range from anxiety or mood disorders like depression, psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, to eating disorders or addictive behaviors.

Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world and includes 16 million American adults living with major depression. Eighteen percent of adults in the US experience anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and/or specific phobias ranging from a fear of spiders to a fear of pickled vegetables.

Mental illness is prevalent in homeless populations, with an estimated 26% of adults staying in shelters living with serious mental health conditions and approximately 46% with both mental illness and/or substance abuse. One in five state prisoners have a recent history of mental illness. Mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder are the third most common cause of hospitalizations in the US across ages 18-44. Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.

 

Contrary to scientific evidence, Americans are increasingly viewing people affected by mental illness as potentially violent due to media coverage of mass shootings and the political language used to explain such events as aberrations that cannot be foreseen or effectively avoided. The truth is the vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent; only 3%–5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.

The effects stigma has on people with mental illness and their families can be extensive. Stigma comes from a lack of understanding of others’ experience, and can be invalidating and painful to those already struggling. This can lead to further isolation and unnecessary shame. Stigma can also lead to harassment, bullying, and violence towards those affected. People with mental illnesses continue to face discrimination in seeking employment and housing. Stigma also prevents people from seeking help or getting treatment, causing symptoms to become worse and more difficult to treat.

 

NeedyMeds has Diagnosis Information Pages for various mental illnesses including depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia. We also have information for over 5,000 free, low-cost, or sliding-scale clinics throughout the country that offer counseling or mental health services. Search your ZIP code for clinics that may offer Counseling/Mental Health Services near you, or call our toll-free helpline for information at 1-800-503-6897 (open Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm ET).

 

We encourage everyone to educate themselves, strive to understand the difficulties people around us live with, and to replace stigma with hope and support. If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, it is important to know that no one is alone in their struggle. Call for assistance, whether help is needed immediately or long-term.

Samaritans 24/7 Crisis Services via call or text: (877) 870-HOPE (4673)

The Trevor Project (LGBTQIA crisis support): 1-866-488-7386 or Text “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200

Trans Lifeline (transgender crisis support): (877) 565-8860

The Steve Fund Crisis Text Line (crisis support for people of color): Text STEVE to 741741

Photo by Dan Meyers

Suicide Prevention and Awareness

We have written a lot about mental health this year. Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States. Each year over 45,000 people in America kill themselves — a rate that has increased 41% since 1999. Mental health conditions are often seen as the cause of suicide, but 54% of those who commit suicide do not have a known mental illness. 

Suicide is rarely caused by a single factor, and is also affected by personal relationships, substance use, physical health, and stress from jobs, money, legal issues, and/or housing. In addition to September being Suicide Prevention Month, the week surrounding World Suicide Prevention Day is National Suicide Prevention Week. Awareness is important to end the stigma of suicidal feelings and help more people access life-saving help in dark times.

 

Anyone can have suicidal thoughts, but it is important to know they are not permanent. Having suicidal thoughts is not a sign of weakness or failure, but is a symptom of profound distress. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors can be very damaging and dangerous, and should be considered a psychiatric emergency. 

Other than mental illness, there are a number of risk factors for suicide:

Photo by Ahmed Hasan

  • A family history of suicide
  • Substance abuse — using drugs and alcohol results in mental/emotional highs and lows that can exacerbate suicidal thoughts
  • Intoxication — more than a third of people who die from suicide are under the influence at the time
  • Access to firearms
  • A serious or chronic medical illness
  • A history of trauma or abuse
  • Prolonged stress
  • Isolation
  • A recent tragedy or loss
  • Agitation and sleep deprivation

Certain populations can be more at risk than others. Suicide rates have been shown to be higher in rural areas, particularly in counties with small populations and lower incomes. Women are more likely to attempt suicide, but men are more likely to die from it. LGBTQIA people are at a higher risk for attempting suicide than heterosexual/cisgender individuals, especially among those who experience rejection from their families. People of color, immigrants, and other underrepresented communities also face unique factors affecting their mental health that can lead to tragic outcomes.

 

There are warning signs to watch for if you are afraid someone you know may be having suicidal thoughts:

  • Suicidal ideation — threats or comments about killing themselves that may appear harmless but can become overt and dangerous
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Aggressive behavior and/or dramatic mood swings
  • Social withdrawal from friends, family, and community
  • Talking, writing, or thinking about death
  • Impulsive or reckless behaviors

The more serious signs include:

  • Putting affairs in order
  • Giving away meaningful possessions
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family
  • Mood shifts from despair to calm
  • Planning, possibly by looking around to buy, steal, or borrow the tools they need to complete suicide, such as a firearm or prescription medication

 

Photo by Jon Tyson

If you know someone who might be thinking about suicide, you can help by offering to listen. Listening to someone can show that they are cared for, give them a greater feeling of control, and help them feel connected to another person. It is important to remain calm and vigilant of their feelings.

After listening for a time, ask the person if they have thought about suicide. Asking can be scary and difficult, but the answer will give more information than watching for warning signs. If they answer “No,” keep listening; don’t tell them you are glad or relieved, as they may be less likely to be honest if their answer changes. If their answer is “Yes,” it is important to stay calm and not show signs of fear or anger; keep listening, let them know you care, and ask questions about any further thoughts or plans to commit suicide. Get the person help, even if they have not agreed to it. Telling a professional about your concerns can save their life.

 

Beyond the emotional toll suicide takes on all those it affects, there is a financial cost. The average cost of one suicide is estimated at $1,329,553. More than 97% of this cost is due to lost productivity; the remaining 3% are costs associated with healthcare costs. The total cost of suicides and suicide attempts is estimated at $93.5 billion. Every $1 spent on psychotherapeutic interventions and interventions that strengthened linkages among different care providers saved $2.50 in the cost of suicides

NeedyMeds has information for over 5,000 free, low-cost, or sliding-scale clinics throughout the country that offer counseling or mental health services for those in need. Search your ZIP Code for mental health clinics near you, or call our toll-free helpline for information at 1-800-503-6897 (open Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm ET).

 

We encourage everyone to educate themselves, strive to understand the difficulties people around us live with, and to replace stigma with hope and support. If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, it is important to know that no one is alone in their struggle. Call for assistance, whether help is needed immediately or long-term.

Samaritans 24/7 Crisis Services via call or text: (877) 870-HOPE (4673)

The Trevor Project (LGBTQIA crisis support): 1-866-488-7386 or Text “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200

Trans Lifeline (transgender crisis support): (877) 565-8860

The Steve Fund Crisis Text Line (crisis support for people of color): Text STEVE to 741741

Be Healthy Going Back To School

It is the time of year when people of all ages are returning to classrooms. They will be exposed to new experiences and ideas but also higher risk of exposure to viruses/illness and stress. Here are some tips for students of all ages to ensure a healthy and successful time in school:

  • Vaccinations are the best course for preventing illness. In addition to the vaccines recommended by your doctor, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone over 6 months of age.
  • Sleep is essential to keep children (and adults) focused throughout the day. Adults need about eight hours of sleep, while young children often need more. It’s important to set a bedtime that ensures everyone gets enough sleep and to keep a consistent schedule.
  • To avoid getting sick and to prevent children from bringing germs home, it’s important to teach children to wash their hands after using the restroom or before eating.
  • A healthy diet can help children grow and learn more effectively, as well as keep everyone’s immune systems primed to fight off illness. Avoid junk food and soft drinks, and consider packing children’s lunches with healthy snacks.
  • Going back to school is stressful for both parents and students of all ages; for some children, it may be a new sensation. Help manage stress by talking to children (or encouraging adult students to talk to someone) about anything bothering them and take care not to overload anyone’s schedule. Schoolwork is important, but it is essential for mental health to relax, play, and spend time with family.
    • A significant new stress for students and teachers returning to school is the atmosphere of fear that has emerged in the wake of mass shootings at schools and other venues throughout the United States. Simulated active shooter drills have been shown to contribute to trauma rather than relieve fears, and policies of harsher discipline and armed school staff increase the likelihood that people are exposed to violence
    • It is imperative that children feel they can trust the adults in their lives and be connected as a community. An authoritative approach of structure, oversight, consequences, and support can help children learn responsibility for their behavior and how to reconnect with others; as opposed to an authoritarian environment of punishment, control, and containment which hardens a school instead of making it a better place with less violence and fewer problems.
  • Student backpacks should never weigh more than 10-20% of a student’s body weight, and should be adjusted properly to the bottom of the pack so it sits at their waist.  Encourage students to use both shoulder straps; slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles and hurt their back.
  • If your student has a chronic health condition, ensure that the school nursing staff is aware and carefully go over any emergency plans with your child and school health personnel.

 

Students of different ages may have different experiences in school, but these tips are a good foundation to staying healthy while learning and growing. If you are having trouble accessing vaccination or other services, NeedyMeds has a database of over 18,000 free, low-cost, and sliding-scale clinics all over the country

The NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card can be of help for prescribed medicines, even over-the-counter medications if written as a prescription. The free discount card is also available as an iPhone and Android app. For children affected by a chronic health condition, there may be academic scholarships or extracurricular camps and retreats available

For more information, visit the website or call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897 Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm Eastern Time.

Planned Parenthood Forgoes Title X After Gag Rule

This week, Planned Parenthood withdrew from federal Title X funding rather than comply with the Trump administration’s “gag rule” prohibiting Title X grantees from providing or referring patients for abortion services. Title X funding is mandated to focus on family planning and related preventive health services for patients who are low-income or uninsured. Two-thirds of patients who benefit from Title X funding are at or below the federal poverty line. Providers have already been forbidden from using federal funds to pay for abortions since 1976.

Planned Parenthood has been a controversial organization to many Americans since its beginnings in 1916. Planned Parenthood began their work when information about family planning and contraception were considered “obscene.” The founders of the first birth control clinic were arrested and convicted for disseminating contraception information. In the 1960s, family planning became a central element of the War on Poverty. Today family planning services include everything from couples counseling to reproductive health screenings, pregnancy tests and prenatal services to contraception or pregnancy termination. Some Planned Parenthood clinic locations are able to provide a full range of family practice services. Planned Parenthood’s mission has always been to provide services for those in need regardless of income, national origin, or any other criteria.

 

Planned Parenthood has served up to 40% of Title X recipients, providing contraceptive care, cancer and sexually transmitted infection (STI) screenings, prenatal care, and other crucial health services. According to their 2017-2018 Annual Report Planned Parenthood was able to provide 296,310 breast exams and 274,145 pap tests, detecting cancer in 70,193 women as well as diagnosing 240,489 STIs after providing over 4 million screenings to men and women. Contrary to the claim that Planned Parenthood is an “industry of abortion,” the report states only 3.4% of the services provided in 2017 were abortion procedures

After losing Title X funding, many patients are likely to lose access to services Planned Parenthood provides. For now, Planned Parenthood says it has “emergency funds” to cover services that were formerly paid for by Title X and the organization will fundraise to make sure that care does not suffer. However, low-income women who have relied on Planned Parenthood for screenings, birth control, and more, may face more limited options in the months ahead. Planned Parenthood has been the only Title X provider in Utah, and served up to 90% of Title X patients in Minnesota. It will be nearly impossible for other health centers to fill the gap being created, with patients in underserved states seeing longer wait times for appointments or going without care. Men and women seeking affordable family planning services might be forced to drive hundreds of miles for reproductive care. Abortion services will be largely unaffected by the change.

 

NeedyMeds has information on nearly 500 Planned Parenthood clinics. Search your zip code for locations in your area. Cancer screenings and STI testing assistance can be found in our Diagnosis-Based Assistance database by searching for conditions that affect the men and women in our lives, as well as many that offer various forms of assistance for women seeking an abortion. For more resources, check our website at Needymeds.org or call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897 9am to 5pm Eastern Time Monday through Friday.