The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic across the nation, including Surry and surrounding counties. Project Lazarus, a community-based organization designed to address overdose prevention and opioid safety, will hold a meeting discussing the topic of prescription drug misuse and abuse.
“We want to combat the misuse of prescription drugs,” said Surry County Emergency Services Director John Shelton. “It’s a huge problem in this area.”
Shelton stated that Surry County emergencies from prescription drug overdoses are among the highest in the state, with 600 calls related to accidental overdoses and 30 resulting in death in the last year.
According to the CDC, data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) suggests that nearly one-third of people aged 12 and older who used drugs for the first time began by using a prescription drug non-medically. “Some individuals who misuse prescription drugs, particularly teens, believe these substances are safer than illicit drugs because they are prescribed by a healthcare professional and dispensed by a pharmacist,” stated the CDC on their website. “Addressing the prescription drug abuse epidemic is not only a top priority for public health, it will also help build stronger communities and allow those with substance abuse disorders to lead healthier, more productive lives.”
The goal of Project Lazarus is to address the issue related to how prescription drugs fall into the wrong hands, the method in which it is bought and sold and distributed on the streets. According to Shelton, a key way to protect medications from being abused as a street drug is to protect the medication at home, particularly in households with small children, teenagers who may mistakenly take the medications.
“The signs and symptoms are pretty prevalent,” said Shelton of teenage abusers of prescription drugs. “They tend to be withdrawn, surrounded by a different group of friends, have personality changes, are not real active and have a change in sleep patterns.”
Shelton explained that the risk for overdose occurs the longer someone abuses a prescription drug. “When they can’t get the drug they’ll experience withdraws, tremors, very similar to alcohol,” said Shelton. “As they abuse the drug they build up a tolerance and take more.”
According to Shelton, if the person is unable to attain the medication and are forced to go without it for an undetermined amount of time, they’ll likely take the same amount as before once the drug is at their disposal. The risk of overdose is increased due to their tolerance unknowingly being lowered. “If they can’t get the meds and then take the same amount, it can lead to an accidental overdose.”
Along with medications being abused, heroin has also made a comeback, according to Shelton. “It’s a huge epidemic in a lot of the surrounding counties,” said Shelton who stated both heroin and prescription drugs are deadly, with prescription drugs posing a threat due to the inability of the abuser to judge how much they are taking.
The grassroots coalition of Project Lazarus has been working to help improve the situation of prescription drug misuse and abuse in the Yadkin Valley in recent years by working with hospitals, EMS and other groups. As their work continues, they are expanding public involvement in the coalition.
“Medical prescription drug misuse is big in Surry County,” said Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital Executive Director of Marketing and Communications Cynthia Charles. “This is an opportunity for us to educate how to take prescription drugs.” Charles explained that the conference also will address the issue of sharing medications and why only the person it is prescribed to should be the one taking it.
On Thursday at 6 p.m., Project Lazarus Surry County Coalition will hold a meeting on the topic of what can be done about prescription drug misuse and abuse. The meeting, which is free to the public, will be held at Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital in the medical staff conference room on the first floor of the hospital. Project Lazarus CEO Fred Brason will be the featured speaker. Light food will be provided.
While the meeting is free to the public, RSVPs are appreciated to Karen Eberdt at [email protected]
Karen Holbrook may be reached at 336-258-4059 or on Twitter @KarenHolbrook00.