Healthy Life

Drug Free Collier to Host Heroin and Prescription Painkiller Symposium

Health care providers are invited to attend Thursday, June 16, and the session on Friday, June 17 is open to the public.

BY June 9, 2016


By now, the stats are pretty clear: Heroin and prescription painkiller abuse is tearing apart families here and across the country.

So the question becomes: What are we going to do about it?

Drug Free Collier is inviting the public and the medical community to do some soul searching next week during a two-day symposium (for health care providers on Thursday, June 16, and the general public on Friday) and come up with some steps Southwest Florida can take to stave off the addiction crisis.

The Hazelden Betty Ford organization, which has a treatment center in Naples, is providing a toolkit to guide the discussion. The keynote speaker is Dr. Andrew Kolodny, medical director of the Phoenix House Foundation, a treatment organization that operates programs in 10 states including Florida. He’s also executive director and co-founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, a group that seeks to curb the overuse of these powerful drugs.

“I think Collier County is trying to do as much as we can in staying ahead of this. Every time you turn on the news you hear about it,” says Ana DiMercurio, assistant director of Drug Free Collier.

In 2014, almost 2 million Americans abused or were addicted to opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With crackdowns on prescription drug abuse, addicts are turning to heroin, which belongs to the same family as oxycodone, Percocet and the like. Combined, heroin and prescription opiates killed some 28,600 people in the United States in 2014. You can read Gulfshore Life’s examination of the growing drug problem in Southwest Florida here.

“As a community, we’re just trying to figure out how to reach people,” says Brenda Iliff, the executive director of Hazelden Betty Ford of Naples. “It starts with education, and that’s what this event is about.”

Collier, she says, is already a step ahead of many communities with the recent creation of a Heroin Task Force made up of health care providers, treatment experts and community leaders from various sectors. Now, she says, it’s time to bring in the general public, faith community, people who’ve struggled with addiction and, critically, their families.

“Families are desperate,” Iliff says.

Hazelden is introducing its community action plans around the country. While it’s too early to have data measuring the effectiveness of such plans, the toolkit introduces communities to concepts such as the use of medications to treat substance abuse disorders and the use of Naloxone, an overdose reversal drug typically administered by emergency responders. The community action guides also serve as primers for understanding opioids and the warning signs of abuse.

Health care professionals will talk about everything from how to screen patients for opioid abuse to alternative forms of pain management. Continuing education credits will be offered.

“Heroin and Prescription Painkillers: A Time for Community Action” is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Email or call 302-6717. The event takes place on Friday, June 17, at Hodges University, 2665 Northbrooke Drive, Naples. Registration begins at 8 a.m., and the event runs from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Lunch will be provided.

Health care professionals will meet on Thursday, June 16, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Telford Auditorium at NCH’s downtown hospital campus. Pre-registration is requested using the contact information above.

For additional information on either event, visit


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