Abuse of prescription drugs in Caldwell County targeted
The Lenoir Police Department installed a permanent drop box in April 2012 where people can leave unneeded prescription drugs so they won't wind up being abused.
The amount of drugs collected exceeded the department's expectations, Chief Scott Brown said.
“We stopped counting by dosage units and just started weighing it,” Brown said.
In just the first three months, people left 66 pounds of prescription drugs.
The abuse of prescription drugs is a countywide problem. One indicator is the mortality rate from abuse of those drugs. In 2011, Caldwell County had a rate of 13.4 deaths for every 100,000 people, according to state health statistics cited by Project Lazarus, a non-profit group working to stem prescription drug overdoses. That's higher than both the national and state rates -- and North Carolina has among the highest rates of prescription drug deaths in the South: 12.9 per 100,000 in 2008, the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a statistic.
Over the past few years, the problem of prescription drug abuse has been on the rise in Caldwell County, Brown said, especially among young people, who will take medicine that was prescribed for a family member and often think that if a doctor prescribed it, the drug must be safe.
"If we don't get a hold of it, we're going to start losing young people," he said. "We don't want to see that happen."
Work began Sept. 20 to get Project Lazarus going in Caldwell County. Project Lazarus was founded by Fred Brason II in Wilkes County in 2008, the year after Wilkes County had the third-highest rate of prescription drug overdose deaths in the country.
Brason formed a coalition among Wilkes County community organizations, including schools, emergency response organizations, faith groups, civic groups, "anybody and everybody," Brason said. Efforts included getting law enforcement officers dedicated specifically to addressing prescription drugs, training care providers on appropriate prescribing, increasing treatment availability and creating programs at schools to increase awarenes.
From 2009 to 2011, overdose deaths in Wilkes dropped 69 percent.
Today, Project Lazarus is working to expand into all 100 counties in North Carolina and has to other states with high rates of prescription drug abuse, including in Ohio, Utah, and New Mexico.
On Sept. 20, where 35 people representing different Caldwell community organizations, including the school system, local health agencies, police and faith organizations, met to learn about Project Lazarus and start to figure out what needs to be done in Caldwell County. The next step is to hold an open meeting for the public, which will be scheduled sometime in the next four to six weeks, Brason said, then to form coalitions to help advocate and formulate a plan specific to Caldwell County.
Project Lazarus has allocated $7,500 for the organizing work in Caldwell County, taken from grants the project received to take the project statewide.
“It will change the community,” said Dr. Tina Brookes, who spearheaded the Sept. 20 meeting. Brookes formerly worked as the director of the alternative suspension program at Caldwell County Schools, where she saw the problems of prescription drug abuse firsthand. “Anything we can do to reduce prescription drug use and abuse will help everyone, and it especially filters down to kids.”
The Lenoir Police Department recently started an initiative of its own, OUR, that is in the early stages of data collection and evaluation. OUR is not an acronym but is short for "Our students, our children, our mission." It will focus on education and outreach rather than making arrests, Brown said.
“We want to see it change and do our part to help people who need our help,” Brown said. “It’s getting out of hand. There are not many families in Lenoir and Caldwell County that haven’t seen the effects of it.”