DOBSON — A Surry County government official says efforts to combat prescription drug abuse will continue despite the departure of the woman who has led that effort for more than three years.
Karen Eberdt said earlier this week that she has been dismissed from her position as public health education specialist with the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center, through which she served as coordinator of Project Lazarus-Surry.
The local Project Lazarus organization was formed in 2011 to combat abuse and misuse of prescription medications, which has been an ongoing problem in Surry County and around the nation.
Eberdt became Project Lazarus coordinator in 2014. It is a part-time position that operated within the scope of Eberdt’s full-time job as public health education specialist, which has involved implementing programs in schools to educate young people about drugs.
The coordinator also has worked to engage other facets of the community such as law enforcement, medical professionals, the faith community and others in helping to reduce overdoses.
The ex-county employee declined Thursday night to specify the reasons she was given for her termination by Samantha Ange, director of the county health department, citing possible legal ramifications. Eberdt explained that she would be consulting with an attorney regarding the situation.
Her termination was effective Tuesday, according to Sandra Snow, Surry’s assistant county manager for human resources and operations.
Snow, when responding to a reporter’s request for information about the situation, would only confirm Thursday that Eberdt was no longer on the county government payroll. Snow declined to comment further, citing the confidentiality of the personnel issue involved.
But she said the county will be continuing its emphasis on trying to eradicate the drug problem, including seeking another person to replace Eberdt as coordinator of Project Lazarus-Surry.
“Karen is no longer employed with us, however, we will be filling that position,” Snow said. “We plan to advertise and fill it as soon as possible.”
The assistant county manager stressed that Eberdt’s departure does not reflect any lessening of intensity regarding the Project Lazarus mission. “The county is very, very supportive of continuing our efforts with the opioid issue,” Snow said.
“Not giving up the fight”
Eberdt, meanwhile, said she also planned to continue her efforts to fight prescription drug abuse and misuse as a private citizen.
“I’m not giving up the fight — it’s too big,” the former health department employee said of the problem.
Upon becoming the local Project Lazarus coordinator in 2011, Eberdt said that “personal feelings” about drugs led her to take the position.
Before her dismissal on Tuesday, Eberdt already had been scheduled to give a presentation to the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners Thursday night on a possible needle-exchange program in the city.
When beginning that presentation, Eberdt identified herself as a regular citizen of the county.
She explained that along with the overdose problem, concerns have emerged locally about the spread of hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS, which are linked to the use of shared, dirty needles.
Eberdt told Mount Airy officials that there are signs intravenous drug use is becoming prevalent locally. “There’s been two times I’ve been out with my son and seen dirty needles lying in a parking lot,” she explained.
Needle-exchange programs are a type of public service in which injecting drug users can obtain hypodermic needles and related paraphernalia at little or no cost.
Eberdt said she would like to see such a program in Mount Airy because in the past few years, 40 to 45 percent of the EMS calls related to substance abuse have been generated in the city.
She said there is also a financial consideration regarding hepatitis C, which is treated with medication that costs $1,000 day and requires a 12-week regimen at a total expense of $84,000.
Some people might not be supportive of doing something that could be considered as enabling intravenous drug users, which a needle-exchange program would, Eberdt acknowledged during her presentation. But if someone knew of a person in that position, “I’m sure you would want them to stay alive.”
The commissioners took no action Thursday night regarding the proposed needle-exchange program, and offered no comments in response to Eberdt’s presentation.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.