Summer might be vacation time for some, but not the Project Lazarus prescription drug coalition in Surry County.
One of the group’s major thrusts is trying to educate children about dangers from abuse of substances such as painkillers, but public schools being out of session hasn’t stopped that effort, coalition Coordinator Karen Eberdt reported during a meeting Thursday.
It instead has reached kids through the various summer recreation programs across the county which annually fill the void in young people’s schedules when there’s no classes.
That effort has led to thousands of prescription medications being turned in voluntarily through take-back campaigns that have been held in conjunction with the youth education efforts undertaken with help from local law enforcement agencies.
In less than a day’s time, about 23,000 dosage units were removed from local medicine cabinets through the summer programs at Reeves Community Center/Jones Intermediate School in Mount Airy and Armfield Civic and Recreation Center in Pilot Mountain.
“That just tells us how important the need is to do this,” Eberdt said of the coalition’s work to make sure drugs such as painkillers are used only by those needing them and not misused or abused and thereby promote overdoses.
The local group was formed in 2011, modeled after a successful Project Lazarus program in Wilkes County that greatly reduced overdose deaths, and includes representatives from the medical, educational, law enforcement, drug counseling, ministerial and other communities.
There was a bit of incentive for the kids in summer programs to encourage their parents to bring in unused or expired medications, after law enforcement personnel gave presentations about the dangers. Participants who got moms and dads to collect prescription drugs from home received a coupon for a free sandwich at Chick-fil-A.
One of the main things children were taught was that pills might look like candy or even taste good — but should not be consumed unless prescribed.
During the drug take-back at the Armfield center, one person turned in $1,000 worth of medications.
“That was an education to the senior population there at Armfield,” Eberdt added during Thursday’s meeting held at the Surry Community College Center for Public Safety in Mount Airy.
In addition to Mount Airy and Pilot Mountain, the coalition reached summer recreation programs at Rockford, Elkin and the Franklin community, with Eberdt saying the effort was noteworthy at the latter location.
“We got about 900 medications turned in that morning,” the coordinator said of the campaign at Franklin.
“The education is what’s going to be the key” to preventing problems, agreed Frankie Andrews of Pilot Mountain, the North Carolina-area director of the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse, who was among those at Thursday’s meeting.
Andrews quickly stressed that no one wants to see patients deprived of medications they desperately need. “It is vital for somebody who has cancer to alleviate the pain,” he said of one example.
But Andrews and others involved with the Project Lazarus campaign want to make sure others don’t have access to such drugs for recreational use or other questionable applications that cause overdoses. And the effort also is seeking to educate doctors, pharmacists — and patients — to achieve more responsible prescribing and use of such substances.
Along with reaching kids through the summer programs, the coalition will have a presence at the upcoming Autumn Leaves and Pumpkin festivals in Mount Airy and Elkin and “drive-in” events in Pilot Mountain.
At such gatherings, youngsters are reached through offers of free temporary tattoos, and while the tattoos are applied there is an opportunity to talk to parents about proper storage of prescription drugs, Eberdt explained.
Youths are not the only concern of the coalition, the coordinator said Thursday.
While the public might not realize it, middle-age women are the No. 2 group of concern involving prescription drug problems.
To address that segment, presentations will be made to various women’s organizations in the coming months, Eberdt said.
“That’s a real important group that we need to make sure we’re getting the message out to,” she said.
One of the chief goals of the coalition is trying to undo a belief tied to the prescription drug culture prevalent in the U.S: “The only solution for pain is taking a pill,” Peter Rives of the organization Community Care of North Carolina said in articulating that myth.
However, Rives, who also attended Thursday’s meeting, said there is a need to educate people about alternative ways of dealing with pain — which is a condition of the brain. Alleviating stress through avenues such as meditation can help along with dietary practices and exercise, he said.
Rives, who is involved with Community Care of North Carolina’s work in a multi-county area including Surry — which includes providing funding to the local prescription drug coalition — said there are a number of helpful YouTube videos regarding pain management.
He presented one Thursday from Australia, titled “Understanding pain: what to do about it in less than five minutes,” which the approximately 25 persons in attendance applauded afterward.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.