The number of deaths from prescription drug overdoses in 2012 were down by more than 40 percent when compared to 2011, while the total number of reported prescription drug overdose incidents in the county was down about 10 percent.
Both numbers show progress in a local war on prescription drug abuse, but also indicate much work has yet to be done.
The raw numbers show that there were 17 prescription overdose-related deaths in Surry County in 2012, down from 30 the previous year, while the number of overdose incidents in the county in 2012 was 450, down from about 500 the previous year.
The improvement comes after a local initiative called Project Lazarus Surry was launched. That effort is aimed at reducing prescription drug misuse, and therefore overdose cases.
It takes a multi-pronged approach focusing in large part on education and awareness, teaching residents in the community how widespread and dangerous the misuse of some prescription drugs can be.
Part of that educational effort has been to show people how often those with prescriptions simply leave unused drugs lying around the house or car, or discard of them in a way that makes it easy it is for others to access and abuse those drugs. The police and other agencies have been sponsoring drug drop-offs, where people can bring unwanted prescription drugs for proper disposal — more than 170,000 units were collected in the community in this manner last year.
Another part has been to simply teach people how dangerous such drugs can be if used improperly, with those education efforts aimed at people of varying ages, from young children to senior citizens.
And one aggressive approach has been supplying Narcan — a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose — to families of opiate users. This, it would seem, has been a significant reason behind the relatively large drop in the number of deaths verses the number of overdose calls.
The relatively smaller drop in overall prescription drug overdose cases is to be expected. Education takes times to trickle through a community and sometimes doesn’t show the fruits of that labor for years.
Surry County is fortunate to have leaders in law enforcement and emergency services who have recognized this as a problem and then taken an active, community-based approach to combating it.
But to make Project Lazarus Surry most effective, to take the biggest chunk out of those numbers, private individuals must become involved in the effort. Parents especially, along with grandparents and other adults, need to attend the community meetings, take it upon themselves to learn about the problem, and then teach their own children to avoid prescription drug problems.
When a majority of the public gets involved is when the problem with nearly vanish.