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‘Project Lazarus’ brings prescription drug abuse solution before York Co. officials

Every day, the Centers for Disease Control says 100 people die from drug overdoses in the United States.

Here in York County, that number is nowhere near that high, but is still cause for concern. Prescription drug abuse has, in recent years, caught the eye of the York County All-on-Board Coalition, a group formed in 2006 to fight alcohol and drug abuse. The group fights the ongoing problem using resources from area schools, faith based communities and local law enforcement.

Thursday afternoon, the group hosted a workshop led by Fred Brason, who has led similar efforts to fight prescription drug abuse in Wilkes County, N.C. In 2007, Wilkes County had the third-highest drug overdose in the nation, CDC figures show. And Brason stepped in to help.

“With that kind of an epidemic we decided as a community it was our house and we needed to fix it,” Brason said.

In the months to follow, leaders launched Project Lazarus, a non-profit, secular group to work out solutions to combat the high overdose rate.

The approach, though wasn’t easy. “Not blaming anybody,” Brason said, “Not blaming prescribers for prescribing too much [medicine], not blaming law enforcement for not arresting as often as they should…none of those things were going to fix the problem.”

What did work, Brason said, was a comprehensive approach that brought together the various stakeholders that brought the community together and address the issue head on.

Brason calls it the public health approach. “Changing the perception, changing the habits, changing the behaviors, and helping those who need help — that is what drives the difference.”

Here in York County, All on Board Leaders think they can glean some ideas from Brason and his team in North Carolina.

“All On Board has done a remarkable job at developing partnerships, but I think we can develop more partnerships, especially with the medical community, i.e. Physicians and Pharmacists,” said Frank Zebeids, chief of police at Winthrop University and chairman of the All on Board Coalition. “Fred was able to advise us on how to reach out to them, we now have to establish a strategy to make contact with them and share our outcomes.”

Marvin Brown, commander of the York County Multijurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit, agrees but say there’s a big difference between narcotic and non-narcotic pills. Brown cites the successes seen in seven permanent pill drop boxes. Since November 2009, authorities have collected 1,737,738 dose units or pills.

“We have also been pretty successful in arresting those that [have] sold drugs to persons that have died from overdoses,” Brown said. “I can think of five death cases right off that we were able to determine and charge most of those responsible.”

Brown said that from a law enforcement perspective, there still remains much to do, but York County is ahead of most counties in South Carolina.

“If our community continues to stay behind the Coalition, we will continue to make a difference in York County,” Zebedis said.

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