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.