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Going Door-to-Door To Fight The Opioid Crisis

Real estate professionals are knocking on doors with information on how to get rid of unused medications

sdar weicheltVern Lovett is not a doctor — but he is licensed to sell homes. And that means the San Diego real estate professional could have more luck than a licensed physician convincing his neighbors to get rid of potentially deadly prescription drugs in their homes.

Saturday morning, Lovett put on his walking shoes, recruited his nephew for backup and took to the streets of his Mira Mesa community to knock on doors. His mission: To spread the message that medications no longer in use can easily end up in the wrong hands — and kill.

He was joined by more than 150 like-minded real estate agents from the San Diego Association of Realtors as part of the “Keep Kids Safe” program, a new effort organized by the Realtor group, county Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, Sheriff Bill Gore and the Safe Homes Coalition. The program is funded by sponsors, including the Realtor association, American Medical Response and the San Diego County Medical Society. Gaspar’s district contributed $100,000 to the cause.

Over the next several weeks, the group will canvas the county, from Camp Pendleton to Chula Vista, with each volunteer assigned 200 homes and a collective target of 30,000 residences. They’re outfitted with informational handouts and bags that homeowners can use to turn in their unused prescriptions anonymously.

People wishing to dispose of old medications can take their bags to an approved location, with sites listed at makeitasafehome.org. Those who can’t physically make it to a drop-off site will receive pre-paid, pre-addressed envelopes that they can use to mail in prescriptions.

The volunteers will track their progress through a smartphone app.

The goal, said Lovett, “is to take these prescription drugs that are old and unneeded; to get them out of the homes and get them to places where they can be incinerated and destroyed.”

Some 273 people in the county died from prescription drug overdose in 2017, an increase of 20 deaths over the prior year, according to the county’s Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force.

Though they might seem like an unlikely bunch to make a dent in the crisis, real estate professionals are often on the front lines. That’s because they regularly host open houses, which have proven to be easy targets for would-be thieves looking to steal prescription medications from the bathroom cabinets of unsuspecting homeowners.

The scenario is so common that Kevin Burke, president of the local Realtor association, has been trying to educate his 14,000 members for years. He’s been working with the Safe Homes Coalition, a nonprofit established in 2014 to raise awareness about the proper use, storage and disposal of prescription medication.

“If we can impact just one life, it will be worth it,” Burke said. “But I think we will impact much more.”

The group may struggle, however, with getting everyday people to hear their door-to-door message.

Real estate professional Robert Weichelt struck out at house after house when he took his supplies, and a can-do attitude, to a cul-de-sac in Bay Ho.

After visiting 16 homes, he had only convinced one person to let him finish his full spiel and leave behind a drug disposal bag. Two others said they weren’t interested mid-speech. The remaining residents either didn’t come to the door or had “No Soliciting” signs in plain view.

Still, the San Carlos native carried on, leaving behind door hangers in the hopes that those who ignored him would take a second look later.

“I have no idea if these efforts are making a difference. I don’t know if people are listening. It’s a little frustrating,” said Sandy Nolan, in a tear-filled speech at a news conference earlier in the morning. Nolan, who works with the Safe Homes Coalition, has been trying to raise awareness about the opioid crisis since her 24-year-old son Jerry died of a heroin overdose 11 years ago. “I will continue doing them.”

At least with this effort, Nolan has an army of Burkes, Weichelts and Lovetts on her team; they’re no strangers to rejection and eager to educate.

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