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‘Prescribed to death’ exhibit touches local visitors

Twenty-two thousand people lost their lives due to prescription opioid overdoses in 2015. That’s one data point, with countless affected people.

The National Safety Council wanted to remind people of that, so created the “Prescribed to Death” national exhibit. The memorial wall displays 22,000 pills, each with a carving of a human face to represent the 22,000 people who died from prescription opioid overdoses in 2015.

The traveling exhibit stopped in Buffalo in late August. The memorial included a unique local piece — a hope and remembrance wall — that stayed in the area after the exhibit traveled on. The wall acted as a place where people could bring in lost loved one’s personal affects, photos or personal notes and names written on sticky notes. The wall is now on display at Save the Michaels of the World’s office in Buffalo, an organization that aims to raise awareness of prescription and other drug addictions.

“A lot of times people hear about this issue and they think, ‘That could never happen to me,’” said Maureen Vogel, public relations senior manager for the National Safety Council. “A lot of people aren’t moved to change their behavior unless it hits their heart, it hits them personally or they hear someone else’s very powerful story and it kind of jars them awake.”

‘Prescribed to death’ exhibit touches local visitors | Opioid Awareness Guide

The Safety Council also wanted the exhibit to give people hope and make them feel like they could take action to relieve the opioid crisis. The organization created “opioids: warn me” labels that can be stuck onto insurance cards. These aim to start a constructive dialogue with prescribers about what kinds of medications are being prescribed.

Vogel said it gives people the opportunity to ask questions such as: If I’m being prescribed an opioid, is there an alternative? If there’s not an alternative, can I take a low dose or take it for a shorter period of time?

“We wanted to be able to illustrate to people you can get just as good, or in a lot of cases better, pain relief by using simple over-the-counter medications rather than these prescribed medications that carry with them a significant risk of addiction,” she said.

The Safety Council also partnered with Stericycle, a company that collects and disposes of regulated substances, to provide people with bags to get rid of their medications. Medications can be placed into the bag and sent straight to an incinerator. The bags are U.S. postage-paid and pre-addressed, with instructions for easy use.

Both the warning labels and the bags can be ordered and sent to people for free on

“We know there’s not one silver bullet that’s going to get us out of the opioid crisis, but we know there’s a lot of silver linings,” said Vogel. “Everything we’ve ever done in public health, when we work together and work hard, we don’t lose.”

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