County funding support could be in the offing for a local initiative to battle the prescription drug epidemic — if one commissioner has his way.
“There are real problems,” Commissioner Larry Phillips said Thursday night during a meeting of the Project Lazarus-Surry group when continuing issues with medication abuse and misuse were discussed.
“This stuff affects a lot of people at a lot of different levels of society,” added Phillips, the newest member of the county board — elected in November — who was attending his first meeting of the coalition group formed in 2011 to address the drug issue.
The Surry official said he is impressed by the headway being made by the drug initiative so far, for which educating the public about the dangers has been a major thrust. And he believes it deserves county government support.
Phillips said he is familiar with the devastating effects addictions to prescription medications can bring. His wife is a pharmacy technician with a local drugstore and he also deals with the problem through his role as a pastor. Phillips said it has been an issue with a member of his extended family as well.
Up to now, the top echelons of county government leadership have not taken an active role with the Surry prescription drug coalition, which includes members of the law enforcement, educational, public health, church and other sectors.
But Phillips, a Mount Airy District commissioner, wants to see that change — although he pointed out that this represents the view of just one board member.
He told coalition members Thursday night, meeting at Mount Airy High School, that he would advocate for county funding to aid their efforts during upcoming budget deliberations.
“We have a planning retreat coming up,” Phillips said. “It’s definitely something I want to put on (the agenda) for discussion.” He said he doesn’t have a specific sum in mind at this point.
However, any support the county could swing the coalition’s way would be appreciated, said Fred Brason, who has led a successful Project Lazarus campaign in Wilkes County and been a mentor for the launching of the similar effort in Surry.
“We’re always looking for more funding and resources,” Brason said during Thursday night’s session. The prescription drug coalition is operating on a shoestring budget of sorts, about $35,000 to $37,000, Brason said, some of which is designated to pay a part-time coordinator.
Yet Brason said that much of the coalition’ efforts are not big-ticket items in a monetary sense, although there could be some expense associated with billboard and related campaigns locally. He said decisions on such expenditures would be up to the coalition.
“It’s basically just changing life practices,” he said of the need to alter patterns of drug use — “re-educating the patients and the prescribers, and that takes time.”
Commissioner Phillips also is interested in attacking the problem from a law enforcement standpoint, asking Mount Airy Police Chief Dale Watson Thursday night if problems with the dispensing of drugs to abusers can be traced to any one clinic locally.
Watson said most of the issue here has been due to “doctor shopping” rather than a particular medical facility. “If you can trace it back to one source, you do have grounds you can act on,” he added.
Schools Moving Ahead
“Low-cost” measures to attack the drug problem are under way in local schools, coalition members were told Thursday night.
Dr. Terri Mosley, an assistant superintendent with Surry County schools, reported that March will be “Blitz Month” for a team of county high school students who have been leading the way.
The group is seeking to expand on successful campaigns of last school year, which will include producing its own television spots, said Mosley, who added that the students’ role is critical.
“They’re the best spokespeople for their own age group,” Mosley said. “When it’s young people speaking to young people, they pay more attention.”
Dr. Greg Little, superintendent of Mount Airy schools, said the anti-drug message is apparent each time he enters a county campus and sees a poster or other visual element.
He also said that efforts to warn students of the dangers of prescription drugs are moving forward in city schools. One recent change that will aid this mission is the adding of a school resource officer at Mount Airy Middle School. Little thanked Steve Yokeley, a Mount Airy commissioner in attendance Thursday, for city board members’ unanimous decision to allocate funding for the SRO.
“We think that’s going to be a front-line defense for us at the middle school,” Little said of how it will help with the drug problem.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.