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Project Lazarus: It Takes a Community

Posted on :  January 14th, 2015  |  By :  towardsrecovery

In 2008, a community in Wilkes County, North Carolina came up with a unique goal: that communities need to take care of their own, especially in regards to drug abuse. The result of the goal was Project Lazarus, a non-profit organization that empowered their community to help prevent drug overdoses and manage chronic pain. When Project Lazarus was created, Wilkes County had the third highest rate of death by overdose in the United States. When the project began, the county had an overdose death rate of nearly 29 people per every 100,000. Now, the county has a rate of half that at 13 deaths by overdose per 100,000 people. This project is now being replicated in other places around the United States and it could be a replicated in Canada, too.

Bringing Three Values Together to Reduce Deaths by Overdosing

The Project Lazarus model includes working with compassion, data, and experience to get the job done. It uses these three components to help to reduce overdoses by creating and maintaining community groups so they can create prevention programs that will work in the communities. Project Lazarus also provides technical assistance to help the groups continue to get the data they need to support their populations. Since the project was so successful, it has spread to help the entire state of North Carolina. There is also a chapter successfully working in New Orleans, Louisiana as well as in at least 12 other states.

Focusing on the Reducing Chronic Pain

The State of North Carolina has a statewide non-profit healthcare network called Community Care of North Carolina. Project Lazarus partnered with this group’s Chronic Pain Initiative so that residents who need pain relief can get it while reducing their risks for overdosing. The Chronic Pain Initiative is working with hospitals, emergency rooms, community health departments, primary care physicians, and law enforcement officials to continue to reduce the rate of deaths by overdosing. The Community Care of North Carolina network is providing funding for many of the initiatives that Project Lazarus is solving.

Changing the Community One Prescription at a Time

One of the ways that Project Lazarus has changed the community is in the way that doctors prescribe pain meds. When fatalities from overdoses occurred, the medications were usually prescribed by county doctors. Just a few years after Project Lazarus began, none of the overdoses came from local doctors. Each doctor’s office now uses the Controlled Substances Reporting System and each office has to have a designated person who updates the record. There are stiff penalties for medical offices that misuse or share private information from the report. These penalties were established by North Carolina legislators.

The Project Lazarus changed more than just who wrote prescriptions and who reported them. They group also changed how prescriptions were written. In the past, people could go to the emergency room and get a prescription for 30-days worth of pain medications. Now, emergency room doctors will write a script for enough medication for three days. Patients have to then see their own doctors for follow-up appointments.

Preparing At-Risk Users with Naloxone Kits

Another smart move by the Project Lazarus was to equip at-risk heroin users with a naloxone rescue kit. Naloxone is a drug that reverses the effects of opioids on the body. It works immediately, much like epinephrine works to stop food allergy effects. People who are overdosing on opioids can actually stop breathing because of respiratory depression, but naloxone will immediately wake them – almost like bringing them back from the dead (which is where Project Lazarus got its name). The naloxone kits include a nasal aspirator, a syringe filled with naloxone, a refrigerator magnet, written instructions, and video instructions.

At this time, Project Lazarus is only active in the United States, but at Towards Recovery, we appreciate the work that the group has done to help fight overdosing. Community involvement is important to reduce the horrible effects of overdosing on opioids.

Who We Serve ?

  • Individuals using/abusing street narcotics (e.g. heroin).
  • Patients abusing prescription narcotics(i.e., Codeine, Talwin, Percocet/Percodan, Dilaudid, Morphine or Demerol, et cetera).
  • Individuals displaying any of the following behaviours: Compulsive drug use or drug seeking/craving.
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