The good news is, deaths linked to prescription drugs have dropped dramatically in Surry County. The bad news is that more work needs to be done, officials say.
With that in mind, a community forum will be held next week in Mount Airy as part of a continuing effort to address issues with abuse and misuse of medications. It is scheduled on Aug. 29 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Surry County Human Services Building on State Street in Mount Airy (behind Arby’s), with everyone invited.
An effort known as Project Lazarus Surry — based on a similar initiative that has been successful in Wilkes County — was launched last year to combat what has been termed an epidemic here. A coalition of law enforcement, pharmaceutical, educational, medical, ministerial and other representatives, along with members from the community at large, has been leading the charge.
One Year Later
A gathering similar to the community forum planned next week was held at the same location nearly a year ago, which drew about 100 people.
At that time, organizers of the fledgling movement were seeking ways to combat a problem that would end up claiming the lives of more than 30 Surry County residents in 2011 from overdoses.
“This year there have been around five deaths,” said Mount Airy Police Chief Dale Watson, who spearheaded the local task force to deal with the problem.
While progress certainly has been made, “it’s tragic that any loss occurs,” added Watson.
“We still have a long way to go, but we are making good first steps and we have the foundation laid as this continues to evolve,” he said of programs to reduce overdose deaths further.
Officials have said the prescription drug problem is complex and won’t be solved overnight. It has been called “an equal-opportunity substance-abuse issue” for the way it affects people of all ages and walks of life.
The solution requires changing a culture in which a pill is seen as the answer to every ache and pain, experts say. The manner in which physicians prescribe medications has been addressed in the past year, as well as ways to limit drugs’ availability at both pharmacies and hospital emergency rooms.
Meanwhile, numerous awareness campaigns have been undertaken to warn the public of the dangers, especially impressionable young people. At the same time, the need to counsel and help those who are already addicted has been recognized and led to the development of a community resource guide.
Thousands of medications also have been taken off the streets through ongoing drop-off campaigns.
In taking the pulse of the initiative after one year, Watson is happy about what has been accomplished so far. The huge decline in deaths “shows that there’s promise,” he said.
“I would say that the community has responded in ways to better address this issue,” the police chief said. “We have a better-educated community which is more able to respond to the issues with abuse and misuse.”
The Aug. 29 meeting is viewed as a way to elevate Project Lazarus Surry to the next level.
“We’re trying to get folks aware of the task force,” Watson said of the need to continue to engage more people in the community and have them become involved in one of the sector groups that’s tackling the problem.
The forum also will serve to update what has occurred among the various target areas over the past year.
“We’re going to have a lot of different guest speakers at this one as well,” Watson said.
Among those attending will be Dr. Terri Mosley of Surry County Schools. “She’s going to bring some students with her,” Watson said.
Representatives of counseling and other programs also will address the gathering along with Fred Brason, who has led Project Lazarus in Wilkes County.
More information about next week’s forum is available from Donna Parks, coordinator of Project Lazarus Surry, at 401-8413, or the police chief at 786-3535.
Lunch will be provided during the meeting.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.