North Carolina Opioid Overdose Prevention Program Dramatically Cuts Deaths

A North Carolina opioid overdose prevention program has succeeded in dramatically cutting overdose deaths in one county, according to Medscape. The program is now being rolled out statewide.

Addiction experts discussed the program, called Project Lazarus, at the recent International Conference on Opioids.

Project Lazarus was implemented in Wilkes County, a socioeconomically depressed area in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Many residents have chronic pain because of physically demanding jobs in the logging, farming and textile industries. The county has experienced extremely high rates of opioid overdose deaths. In 2007, the county had the third highest drug overdose death rate in the United States.

Overdose deaths decreased 69 percent in Wilkes County between 2009 and 2011, with little change in how many residents received an opioid pain reliever. Emergency department visits for overdose and substance abuse decreased 15 percent between 2009 and 2010 in the county, compared with a 6.9 percent increase in the rest of North Carolina.

“More opioid prescriptions don’t automatically mean more deaths. It is possible to deliver good pain relief without a heavy overdose burden. But it takes the whole community to make it happen,” said Fred Wells Brason II, Executive Director of Project Lazarus.

The project holds individual education sessions with doctors and continuing medical education sessions on pain management at local hospitals. The project encourages doctors to implement opioid treatment agreements with patients, and to use the state prescription monitoring database, which helps them identify and prevent “doctor shopping.”

Other initiatives include working with hospital emergency departments to reduce the number of pills prescribed, partnering with law enforcement on medication “take-back” programs, and working with mental health centers to increase addiction treatment services. The project has also received funds to purchase and distribute naloxone kits for reversal of overdoses.

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    Dave Finch

    June 24, 2014 at 1:54 PM

    Bravo for Wilkes County. The states’ prescription monitoring databases should be joined into a nationwide resource. Such a wide monitoring system would also be helpful in the system I advocate on my website. That system would tolerated adult use of legally manufactured drugs of nearly all types, certified as to purity and potency, and made available in supplies limited to a defined period of use such as one month. Such a system would kill the illicit drug trade which places hundreds of thousands of small time black market dealers in the way of the young. Coupled with counseling, monitoring and other sensible control measures we could virtually solve the addiction as well as the overdose problem.

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    Eric Peck

    June 20, 2014 at 12:41 PM

    I applaud Wilkes County for implementing Project Lazarus. This is a project that should be implemented in cities and counties across the nation, that have significant overdose problem due to opioid use. I live in Baltimore City, a city with a history of heroin addition. And in the past two years there has been a large increase in the number of people using heroin. For the African American community, and other economically deprived communities, the addiction community has to think outside the box to treat this individuals. It is extremely difficult to bring the families together for the individuals treatment process. Many times this is due to the fact that the families have an addiction problem or the patient’s are from single family homes and the parent doesn’t have time to participate in their child’s treatment process.

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