Tuesday, March 25, 2014 —
Are prescription drugs harmful or healing?
That was the question asked at this year’s Stanly County Health Expo.
The evening, which was hosted by Partners in Health Stanly County Inc., began with locally-sponsored exhibits and a buffet dinner in Stanly Regional Medical Center’s Magnolia Room. Among the exhibitors was D.A.R.E. officer Kim Cook, who is assigned to Albemarle Middle School. Cook was on hand to talk about D.A.R.E., an educational program aimed at raising awareness of drugs and violence in school-age children.
“I teach kids about drugs and what kind of pressures there are in middle school,” Cook said.
A display of various drug paraphernalia, which is used as a teaching tool in the schools, was made available for viewing at the expo.
“A lot of times the kids have never even seen drugs,” Cook said, explaining that the visual aid is useful in teaching children what to look out for.
Courtney Swain, an agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension was Family and Consumer Sciences said the venue offered a venue for the Cooperative Extension to get the word out about the multi-faceted organization.
“People are surprised to learn that we offer so much to both consumers and farmers,” Swain said.
“We offer everything from education on how to prune trees and garden, to how to can what grows from that garden.”
Following a welcome by Stanly County Health Department Director Dennis Joyner, Partners in Health coordinator Jennifer Layton presented the Community Health Improvement Award to Johnny and Martha Legrande for their health and wellness program at Elizabeth Heights. The award recognizes individuals and organizations whose leadership has made a positive impact on the community’s health.
Guest speakers for the event were Stanly County residents April Bailey Underwood and Allison Hudson, along with Fred Wells Brason Jr. of Wilkes County. The topic of the evening was the potential dangers of prescription drug abuse.
“Nine-hundred and sixty-five days ago, I was in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs,” Underwood said.
“I had hit the point where I was abusing any prescription drug I could find.”
Underwood’s journey into prescription drug abuse began with Tramadol and eventually extended into Hydrocodone and Adderoll. Underwood’s dependency on prescription medications is an all too common problem, she said. Popping pills has become an easy way for some individuals to deal with any difficulties they may be facing.
“If you have a problem, if you’re struggling, let’s just take a pill,” Underwood said.
“When I took one pill, my problems went away. When I took two they went away faster.”
Underwood urged doctors to be more aware of what they are prescribing to their patients in order to spot any potential abuses of medication.
The problem of overmedication potentially falls upon both individuals and those in the medical community who are entrusted with their health. Patients must have the ability to monitor the amount of pills they take, she said. Likewise, doctors should monitor the drugs they prescribe and look for signs of dependency and abuse.
“Doctors have got to get involved,” Underwood said.
“They have to say, this is a pattern, it has to stop. There has to be someone to say no.”
In Underwood’s case, it was her parents who took the necessary step to send her on a road to recovery.
“It took my parents everything they had to get me arrested,” Underwood said, explaining how her parents called the police after she stole from them to feed her habit.
After her arrest, Underwood entered into a lengthy treatment program and has since been clean for several years.
“Any addiction will take over and destroy not only your life, but the lives of those around you,” she said.
“The good news is, you can overcome it. Just as the addiction starts slow, the process to overcome it can be slow.”
Also giving a personal testimony was Hudson who, in addition to her own struggles with alcoholism, lost a family member to prescription drugs.
“My brother was 29 years old when he died,” Hudson said.
Hudson’s brother died from an overdose of Fentanyl, a powerful opioid used to treat cancer pain in patients when other medications cease to be effective.
“I always hear, ‘it’s just a prescription,’ ” Hudson said, explaining that people are not always aware of the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
Six weeks after her brother’s death, Hudson ended up in a rehabilitation facility for alcoholism.
“My rock bottom netted me in a pretty nice treatment facility,” she said.
“My brother’s rock bottom netted him in his grave.”
The keynote speaker for the evening was Brason, representing Project Lazarus, a nonprofit organization, which through training and technical assistance, empowers communities and individuals to prevent drug overdoses and to meet the needs of those living with chronic pain.
“We believe that communities are ultimately responsible for their own health and that every drug overdose is preventable,” Brason said.
Unintentional overdoses, he said, are the consequence of patient misuse, family and friends sharing to self-medicate, recreational use and substance abuse disorders.
“For every one death due to prescription pain killers, there are 10 treatment admissions for abuse, 32 emergency department visits for abuse or misuse, 130 people who abuse or are dependent and 825 non-medical users,” Brason said.
Public awareness, coalition action, data and evaluation are the three core components of the Project Lazarus model.
Raising public awareness is crucial to combat the common misconceptions about the risks of prescription drug misuse and abuse. A coalition with strong community ties and support, Brason added, is also needed to combat the problem of unintentional overdoses.
The third component, data and evaluation, is used to understand problems in the community and set priorities.
Project Lazarus has had a positive impact on Wilkes County.
“In 2007, Wilkes County had the third largest overdose rate in the country,” Hudson said.
“The overdose death rate dropped 69 percent in two years after the start of Project Lazarus and the Chronic Pain Initiative.”
For additional information on Project Lazarus, visit on the Web. at projectlazarus. org.
Erica Benjamin is a freelance contributor for The Stanly News & Press.