Chapel Hill News

Film spotlights prescription drug abuse, deaths

Local health officials say a free documentary being shown this week should be a wake-up call for parents.

The short film, “Out of Reach,” deals with prescription drug abuse and is the brainchild of a teen filmmaker in Dallas, Texas. It will be shown Wednesday at Chapel Hill High School and Thursday at C.W. Stanford Middle School in Hillsborough.

“This film is a teen’s wake-up call to parents,” said Ashley Mercer, coordinator for Healthy Carolinians of Orange County. “Seeing how rampant prescription drug abuse is in a typical American high school will help put this dangerous behavior on parents’ radar and motivate them to take action.”

Ten Orange County residents die each year from accidental prescription pain medication overdoses, health officials say. Of those cases, roughly 70 percent involve opioids, a class of drugs that includes morphine, oxycodone, codeine and other narcotic painkillers.

The state reported 1,014 accidental drug overdoses – 565 were from prescription opioid painkillers – in 2012. That was an increase of nearly 300 percent – from 297 cases in 1999 to 1,101 cases in 2012 – making it the state’s second-leading cause of accidental death, reports show.

Opioids are involved in more drug deaths than heroin and cocaine combined, according to the N.C. Injury and Violence Prevention Branch of the state Division of Public Health. Plus, the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs plays a role in higher suicide rates, health officials said.

The problem has grown so rampant that the state, in 2013, agreed to let police officers and firefighters administer the drug naloxone to patients suspected of overdosing on heroin and other opioid drugs. Naloxone counteracts opioid effects on the central nervous and respiratory systems, letting the victim breathe normally. Ambulance crews have carried it for decades.

Carrboro Police Officer Teresa Kernodle may have been the first law enforcement officer in the state to use naloxone Jan. 12 when she treated a man in his early 30s who had overdosed on heroin. The drug has been or will be distributed to 14 law enforcement agencies across the state, including the State Bureau of Investigation and Alcohol Law Enforcement, according to the Harm Reduction Coalition.

Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough police also maintain prescription drug drop-off boxes at their respective departments. Residents can bring expired, unused or unwanted medications to the departments during regular business hours.

“Out of Reach” resulted from a collaboration between Dallas native and high school student Cyrus Stowe and director Tucker Capps, the man behind A&E’s “Intervention” reality series. While exploring the world in which Cyrus and his friends live, the film also reflects more broadly on the national issue of teen drug abuse, health officials said.

The production was sponsored by the entertainment company Genart and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

Local and state experts will talk with the audience and answer questions. To reserve a spot for either film screening, call Mercer at 919-245-2440.