In 2009, Wilkes County in the northwestern part of the state had the 4th highest rate of prescription drug overdose deaths in the country. Two years later, those numbers dropped by 68 percent. That's because of a program called Project Lazarus, which is now going to be implemented statewide.
Michael Lancaster is director of Behavioral Health for Community Care of North Carolina, the non-profit that will oversee the expansion of Project Lazarus. He says "unintentional poisonings" are rising faster in North Carolina than in the rest of the country, and that most of those deaths are preventable by community education and appropriate prescribing practices.
“It's not just a law enforcement issue; it's not just an emergency room problem; it's not just a problem with the primary care docs and pharmacists,” Lancaster says. “It's a problem in our community. So the idea that can educate our community to work with this program. To work on school problems; to work on pill take-back days; to work on proper storage and dispensing. Don't take other people's medication.”
The Lazarus Project also urges doctors and pharmacists to use the state-mandated Controlled Substances Reporting system. Right now, statistics show only about 65 percent of providers in North Carolina are registered. Fewer than half of those use it.
“Do the kind of education that needs to be done in the community to engage them around this issue, at the same time, educating physicians,” Lancaster says. “Don't over-prescribe. Don't give a 30-day supply of medication when a 3-day supply will be fine. So that's the goal. Clinical education and community education. So those two combined will begin to address this problem.”
All North Carolina counties will get funding to implement their own Project Lazarus coalitions.