Annual Healthcare Partnership Focuses on Opioid/Heroin Abuse
“It’s our house, it’s our problem.” That was the message about drug abuse delivered loud and clear to more than 130 people gathered for the annual State Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) breakfast at Ehrhardt’s in Tafton on July 31st. The speaker was Fred Brason, CEO and president of Project Lazarus, a community initiative designed to tackle prescription drug abuse in mostly rural Wilkes County, North Carolina. Noting that drug abuse was on the rise in northeastern Pennsylvania, Brason said the solution was a coordinated community effort and he pointed to positive results in his own community. “We had to change the individual to change the village, because the individuals are already in the village.”
The SHIP meeting, co-sponsored by Wayne Memorial Health System and Wayne County LINK, drew representatives from both Wayne and Pike Counties in healthcare, education, public office, law enforcement, drug and alcohol treatment programs and social service groups. Historically, SHIP participants are tasked with reviewing, as well as developing and implementing programs that help improve the healthcare and quality of life for area residents. This year’s emphasis was on opioid/heroin abuse and how to combat it. Besides Brason, speakers included Gerald Margraf, president of a year-old and fast growing organization called Wayne County Heroin Prevention Task Force, and Wayne County coroner Edward Howell who revealed sobering—and too many, troubling—statistics.
“Over the past three years, my office has seen a significant increase in heroin/opiate overdose deaths,” reported Howell. He cited six deaths in 2012, nine in 2014 and as of the end of July, 2015 there were 15 confirmed cases and four pending which he declared probable for heroin/opiate overdose.
Brason noted that in his community, Project Lazarus helped result in a 67% decrease in overdose mortality rates in three years. The program involved the community creating a model, “an action plan to use within their own sphere of influence.” A Public Awareness Plan was presented to all community sectors – schools, parents, churches and physicians. Organizers created a tag line to publicize everywhere, “Prescription Medication – Take Correctly, Store Securely, Dispose Properly and Never Share”.
According to its website, projectlazarus.org, the program “believes that communities are ultimately responsible for their own health and that every drug overdose is preventable… Using experience, data, and compassion we empower communities and individuals to prevent drug overdoses and meet the needs of those living with chronic pain.”
Wayne Memorial Health System CEO David Hoff offered closing remarks complimenting organizations and individuals present at SHIP for continued commitment to positive change and offered encouragement in facing the community’s latest battle by stating, “I know this group can do amazing things.”
Photo: Shown at the 2015 State Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) Breakfast are front row, left to right: Jeff Zerechak, Wayne County Drug and Alcohol; Joann Hudak, assistant superintendent, Wallenpaupack School District; Michael Campbell, MD, Honesdale Behavioral Health; Keynote Speaker Fred Brason, II, CEO/President of Project Lazarus; Kevin Stroyan, Pike County Coroner; Jamie Schultz, Wayne County Detective; Donna Decker, RN, community health manager, Wayne Memorial Hospital. Back row: Louis Porreca, medical student, The Commonwealth Medical College; Charles Proctor, medical student, The Commonwealth Medical College; Suzie Frisch, vice-president, Wayne County Heroin Prevention Task Force; Gerald Margarf, president, Wayne County Heroin Prevention Task Force; Edward Howell, Wayne County Coroner and John Conte, director of real estate and facility services, Wayne Memorial Health System.