Local leaders unite to curb prescription drug abuse in Cabarrus
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Sunday, Mar. 23, 2014

Local leaders unite to curb prescription drug abuse in Cabarrus

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    Healthy Cabarrus, a program at Cabarrus Health Alliance, is governed by an executive committee and advisory board of nearly 40 community partners. Details: 704-920-1000.

Project Lazarus, a public health nonprofit, has teamed with the Cabarrus Health Alliance to evaluate and address the state of prescription drug use, misuse and abuse in Cabarrus County.

Dozens of community leaders met earlier this month to learn about prevention efforts and connect with one another to expand on future efforts. With financial and technical support from Project Lazarus, CHA will help create partnerships, build awareness and implement strategies that have proved effective elsewhere.

Local overdose statistics

Cabarrus unintentional poisoning overdoses have been at or near the state average, said Fred Wells Brason II, a chaplain who is president and CEO of Project Lazarus.

In 2010, Cabarrus County had 19 unintentional medication or drug-related poisoning deaths, more than three times the number of deaths in 2000, according to the CHA.

In the past year, EMS workers responded to 369 calls related to prescription and illicit drugs, according to the CHA. Additionally, they used Naloxone – a life-saving drug administered to reverse drug overdose – 231 times during the last year.

Emergency department visits related to unintentional medication and drug poisoning in Cabarrus County were higher than the state average in 2012 (125.7 per 100,000 people compared to 87.3 per 100,000), according to the CHA.

The CHA’s 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that more than 20 percent of high school students in Cabarrus County had taken a prescription drug without a doctor’s prescription.

Cabarrus County nonprofits have demonstrated a long history of collaboration, and Barbara Sheppard, director of Healthy Cabarrus, sees that as a huge asset moving forward.

“Over the next year, we will continue to engage stakeholders, collect local data and undertake a thorough strategic planning process,” Sheppard said. “Substance abuse coalitions have been launched across the country and in counties where the health department was the lead agency, they have a 23 percent lower rate of emergency department visits than other counties.”

A means to an end

Project Lazarus was established in 2008 in Wilkes County because the county’s drug overdose death rates were four times greater than the state average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2007, Wilkes County had an unintentional drug poisoning mortality rate of 28.3 deaths per 100,000 people, making it the third highest death rate in the country, according to the CDC.

The Wilkes County community collaborated to create Project Lazarus, and since then its unintentional poisoning mortality rate has fallen by nearly 70 percent.

The nonprofit has expanded statewide, in partnership with Community Care of North Carolina, to help communities and individuals to prevent drug overdoses.

Community leaders say prescription drug misuse is a complex problem that affects a community’s schools, health care system, law enforcement and the economy.

Healthy Cabarrus is an initiative responsible for leading a Community Health Assessment every four years. During the most recent assessment, mental health and substance abuse was identified as a priority issue.

“The beauty of Project Lazarus is that each community can tailor the model to meet their needs, selecting the strategies that will be most feasible and effective,” Sheppard said.

Some possible strategies include pill take-back days, increasing community education and awareness of how to properly store and take prescription medications, as well as encouraging providers and pharmacists to register with the state Controlled Substances Reporting System. A teen component also will help create a strong partnership with both school systems.

Brason’s overdose prevention model has spread throughout North Carolina and is used by the nation’s military and several Native American tribal groups.

“Addressing the prescription medication issues within any community entails a broad-based, comprehensive approach and response from the entire community,” Brason said. “Choosing CHA and Healthy Cabarrus provides an already given infrastructure addressing overall health issues for Cabarrus. This (partnership) was further validated by the overwhelming response from the Cabarrus community stakeholders’ enthusiasm at our event.”

Johnson: 704-786-2185

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