Prescription Drug Abuse Discussed in Tyrrell County

Published 1:20 pm Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Fred Wells Brason II, CEO of Project Lazarus, a secular public health non-profit organization, discussed prescription drug abuse and how to combat it locally in a presentation to area health officials in Tyrrell County last week.

17 representatives from Tyrrell County Schools, Sherriff’s Department, Social Services, the Town of Columbia, Tyrrell County, and other local agencies filled a table in Pocosin Arts’ Scuppernong Riverside Lodge to listen to Brason speak.

“We firmly believe that communities are responsible for their own health. Nobody can do it for the community, but the community,” said Brason near the beginning of his presentation.

Brason discussed some of the time he spent as director of the hospice program in Wilkes County before Project Lazarus started.

“I was starting to get calls from the prescribers and the patients telling me that they could no longer write a safe prescription to the patient in that house because the medications were disappearing,” said Brason

Brason said that this phenomenon was widespread in the area and has grown across the county over the last few years.

Project Lazarus was established in 2008 in response to extremely high drug overdose death rates in Wilkes County, North Carolina (four times higher than the state average).
In 2007, Wilkes County had the third highest drug overdose death rate in the nation according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Having expanded statewide in partnership with Community Care of North Carolina, we use our successful experience, data, and compassion to empower communities and individuals to prevent drug overdoses and meet the needs of those living with chronic pain. Project Lazarus enables overdose prevention by providing technical assistance to create and maintain community coalitions, and help them create locally tailored drug overdose prevention programs, and connect them to state and national resources,” reads a mission statement from the group’s website.

Brason said prescription drug abuse is hard to combat.

“If you are going to ask people what is causing the problem they are going to say those doctors. If they would stop prescribing we would not have problems. Or if the drugs companies could not make drugs or advertise. But that does not get around the actual legitimate uses of prescription drugs,” said Brason.

Family and friends also share medications which makes the problem harder to trace.

“Law enforcement is charged to stop diversion. How are you going to stop what people are doing in their living rooms and bathrooms?” said Brason.

Medication that is supposed to be used for health issues is also now used for lifestyle issues.

“People can take whatever drugs to take themselves up, down, happy, or quiet or for whatever,” said Brason.

Brason then discussed how the Project Lazarus model’s three core components of Public Awareness, Coalition Action, and Data and Evaluation is an effective way to address the problem.

“If people do not know there is a problem they are not going to be engaged with fixing the problem. Part of the problem might just be fixing their own individual behavior,” said Brason.

The spokes of the Project Lazarus Model have seven aspects.

Law enforcement, schools, the faith community are all part of the education process.

Hospital education policies to encourage safe prescribing of controlled substances and provide meaningful referrals for chronic pain and addiction are also important.

Provider Education to support screening and appropriate treatment for mental illness, addiction, and pain also play a role.

Community education is necessary to improve the public’s capacity to recognize and avoid the dangers of misuse and abuse of prescription opiods.

Diversion control involves agencies and individuals working together to reduce the presence of unused medicines in society.
Patient Pain Support from patients and caregivers is important to help patients and caregivers manage chronic pain.

Harm reduction should apply to the individual to help prevent opiod overdose deaths with the antidote naloxone.

Finally, the plan addresses addiction treatment to help find effective avenues to manage pain for those ready to enter recovery .

Someone from the table asked: “What are our next steps?”

Brason said Project Lazarus has a variety of projects ready.

“One of the things that we are going to be doing as more of the counties are on board here is we will have our regional leadership training. The first of more than one, so that we will have strong foundational leaders for the county,” said Brason.

From there coalition workshops would proceed.

“Where if I am looking at you, and we have schools, DSS, law enforcement, and local government represented, I am going to tell you go get me twelve more people. When we get all of them together, we will run through some exercises. Then we will know where to put people,” said Brason.

Brason’s presentation was well received.

Those in attendance felt like a little discussed issue had gained some attention.

Vickey Manning, with the Martin-Tyrrell-Washington District Health Department, said locally more attention is slowing coming to the issue.

“I am part of our Child Fatality Program in Martin County and we had a webinar the other day and they were talking about the laws to help curb the spread of prescription drugs. Project Lazarus was mentioned. Prescription dropoff boxes were also discussed. It was really kind of neat to know that here in these counties we are already starting those things,” said Manning.

Billie Patrick, ‎Health Education Director and Preparedness Coordinator at Martin-Tyrrell-Washington District Health Department was pleased to have attended the presentation.

“It was so good to see all of the partners that participated and that have an interest in helping the residents of Tyrrell County with drug prevention,” said Patrick.