PROJECT LAZARUS: Community unites to address prescription drug problems
The annual death rate from opioid overdose in Lee County rose from three in 2009 to seven in 2012.
Those numbers may not seem high, but according to Fred Brason, founder of Project Lazarus, for every one death, there are 10 admissions into substance abuse treatment programs, 32 visits to emergency departments, 130 prescription pill abusers and 825 non-medical users of pain pills.
Representatives from the Lee County Department of Social Services, Central Carolina Hospital and Emergency Medical Services, a number of treatment and medical centers and various faith and community organizations came together Tuesday at the McSwain Extension Education and Agricultural Center in Sanford to discuss the problems of overdose and prescription pill abuse facing Lee County.
"This is a public health issue we need to address across all ends of the spectrum," Brason said, "all populations, all age groups."
Brason started Project Lazarus in Wilkes County in 2008 in response to the county's overdose death rates, which were four times the North Carolina average.
The project now has a presence in more than half the counties in North Carolina, and Brason said he hopes to cover the entire state in the coming years. He said there was a $10,000 grant waiting for Lee County from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust and the N.C. Office of Rural Health and Community Care to go toward funding overdose prevention and treatment initiatives.
Brason gave a presentation Tuesday about the different populations affected by prescription drug abuse and overdose and stressed that a combined effort across all spheres of a community was necessary to prevent accidental overdose death.
Attendees agreed that prevention through drug education and spreading awareness were the best ways to stop the trend of rising overdose deaths.
"I've lost three kids this year to overdose," said Dr. Robert Patterson of Back to Basics Medical Practice in Sanford. He said the deaths may have been prevented if families and friends had better access to drug abuse resources.
Meg Moss, a consultant with Lee County's Community Home Care and Hospice, suggested setting up booths at local events to educate the public on the proper way to lock and dispose of prescription medication and holding events for parents to help them recognize signs that their children may be abusing prescription drugs.
Moss also expressed her desire to see an in-patient treatment facility for addiction and drug abuse in Lee County.
The goal of Project Lazarus is to help communities form a coalition of interested parties that come together to coordinate efforts to raise awareness of the dangers of prescription drug abuse and to provide access to resources to help curb accidental overdose death.
Brason touted Naloxone, an antidote for opioid overdose, as an especially effective tool in preventing drug-related death.
"We need to get Naloxone into the community," Brason said. "The antidote is available."
Deputies Garland Coffer and Rickita Mays represented the Lee County Sheriff's Office at the meeting and discussed the benefits of law enforcement officers carrying Naloxone.
"We go out to the call, assess the patient, call EMS, and they take it from there," Coffer said of the office's current procedure on dealing with drug overdoses. "EMS won't even come out until we secure the scene."
Coffer said carrying Naloxone would give deputies and school resource officers a valuable tool in preventing drug-related deaths.
One simple suggestion offered up during the meeting was a campaign to let people know about disposal sites for expired or unused prescription medication, like the one at the Lee County Sheriff's Office. Brason said many people do not know about these sites and leave old medication lying around the house.
Brason made it clear that breaking down the stigma surrounding addiction and drug abuse was the best way to prevent death.
"[The disease of addiction] affects people of all ages," Brason said. "Nobody volunteers to get addicted. They will tell you 'I didn't plan on this. Every day I wake up wanting not to do this.' But you just can't simply stand up, walk away and make that change without assistance and help from the community."
At the end of the session, Brason collected the input of all attendees, which will be combined and reviewed. Brason said the next step is to analyze the information and suggestions put forth by the representatives and develop a plan of action.
He said the coalition would hold another meeting in a month or two to discuss the best way to move forward with the project.