It may be just one extra moment, but taking extra time – as a patient, caregiver or provider – when it comes to medications could save lives, Miss America Camille Schrier told audience members during a presentation at Virginia Commonwealth University on Wednesday.
Schrier, a VCU School of Pharmacy student, urged VCU Health doctors, faculty and health sciences students to discuss medication safety with patients. She presented her Miss America social impact initiative “Mind Your Meds: Drug Safety and Abuse Prevention from Pediatrics to Geriatrics” at the Jonah L. Larrick Student Center.
“Create an environment with your patients that welcomes questions,” Schrier said. “Take the extra moment that we might not seem to have to ensure patient understanding. Educate, educate, educate about safe medication storage, proper disposal instructions and disposal locations.”
Schrier returned to campus this week for the first time since being crowned Miss America in December. She has since embarked on a national tour to promote medication safety, where she is encouraging safe medication storage and disposal to prevent drug misuse, as well as training for the opioid overdose intervention drug naloxone. In 2017, more than 130 people died every day from opioid overdoses in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s estimated that up to 29% of patients who are prescribed opioids misuse them,” Schrier said.
In part, she credits her pharmacy education for spurring her to pursue “Mind Your Meds” as her personal initiative. Her experience talking to Virginians about medication safety as Miss Virginia last year contributed to a fuller understanding of the personal impacts of opioid addiction and medication errors.
“It became increasingly evident to me as I spoke about medication safety and the opioid epidemic that there are so many people throughout our communities who are hungry to share their personal stories, who want to be heard and who want others to know the impact that pharmaceuticals, especially opioids, have had on their lives,” she said.
She shared some of those stories Wednesday. Busy parents made a medication mistake – not seeing an auxiliary label that a medication required refrigeration – that could have made their child sick. A fifth-grader told Schrier he once was hospitalized for mistaking his grandfather’s blood pressure medication for candy. One educator said that her pharmacist husband, despite his training, became addicted to prescription opioids after a medical procedure and lost his license and his livelihood.
Schrier said she hears these stories every day and is educating community members on how to be good stewards for preventing medication mistakes and misuse.
“Take the time to read and understand your prescriptions, whether it’s for yourself or someone you care for,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to ask your prescriber or your pharmacist questions. Follow directions and take your medications only as prescribed. Never share your prescriptions with anyone, and never take another person’s medications. Lock up your medications when you’re done with them and dispose of them safely.”
At the event, volunteers from VCU’s own “Mind Your Meds” initiative, through the Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, shared educational materials and options for safe medication disposal. Schrier and the institute’s team partnered for an awareness event in August 2019 while Schrier was serving as Miss Virginia.
During Schrier’s visit Wednesday, she also met with children and their families in the Children’s Pavilion at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, including 4-year-old cancer survivor Andi Otey. Andi wore a tiara and princess dress for her treatments at the Children’s Pavilion. Andi told Schrier she watched her win Miss Virginia and, in December, Miss America. She and Schrier bonded over their tiaras and their future careers in health care, Schrier as a pharmacist and Andi as a doctor.
Ericka Crouse, Pharm.D., an associate professor in the School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmacotherapy & Outcomes Science and a clinical pharmacist at VCU Medical Center, attended Schrier’s presentation. Crouse was impressed by Schrier’s ability to reach anyone, from community members to health care providers, by sharing actions they can take to prevent medication misuse and stories of people she met who have felt the impact of medication misuse.
“I think (her stories) bring it home for people,” Crouse said. “She has a good way of saying something that’s going to touch everybody in the room.”
Jordan Meaza, a second-year pharmacy student and one of Schrier’s classmates during her first year at VCU, said seeing a classmate on the Miss America stage spreading awareness about the important work pharmacists do was surprising, but Schrier’s platform makes sense as a fellow future pharmacist.
“With medication, a lot of what we’re learning to do is educate patients how to take it properly and dispose of it properly,” Meaza said. “So to have this platform to tell the world … how to properly use medication and how opioid misuse can become a problem is amazing.”
Peter Buckley, M.D., interim vice president for VCU Health Sciences and CEO of VCU Health System, spoke of Schrier's "remarkable opportunity to do good" through her personal story and through her platform surrounding addiction as she embarks on this yearlong journey.
"We [at VCU and VCU Health] have an abiding commitment to waging war on addictions," Buckley said. "Whether you talk about policy, whether you talk about direct clinical care, whether you talk about training the … workforce or whether you talk about scientific research to combat addiction, Miss America, we are all in with you."
Schrier said she will bring back more lessons about medication safety and the opioid crisis when she returns to campus in August 2021.
“By the end of 2020, I hope to see a decline in the statistics,” Schrier said of national opioid death rates. “But I also want to hear a different type of recurring stories from those I encounter on the road, around the country. I hope they sound something like this: ‘I just took my mother-in-law to our local police station to dispose of her old medications,’ or ‘My neighbor knew how to use naloxone and saved his son’s life.’ …
“I will, without a doubt, return to VCU pharmacy eager and ready to complete my Pharm.D. program as a more broadly prepared future pharmacist and industry professional by having this unique opportunity to explore our country through the lens of my platform.”
Do you have medications you'd like to dispose of? Find your nearest public medication disposal location with the Drug Enforcement Agency's database, which includes locations on VCU's Monroe Park and MCV campuses.