LUMBERTON — About 400 people were told Wednesday during the 15th annual Red Ribbon Luncheon that prescription drug abuse has overtaken recreational drugs as the most commonly abused drugs in Robeson County.
“It’s an epidemic,” said Thomas Norton, executive director of Palmer Prevention, the hosting organization. “It’s a true epidemic when the first drug 40 percent of 12-year-olds try is Xanax. That’s a big problem.”
Among those in attendance were law enforcement, elected officials, educators and representatives of churches and non-profits that purchased tables for the luncheon at the Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Events Center to recognize Red Ribbon Week, a national alcohol, tobacco and drug prevention awareness campaign that happens each October. The campaign dates to the 1980s and President Ronald Reagan’s “war on drugs.”
Michael Boies, a clinical supervisor for Palmer Prevention, said that about 90 people die from prescription drug abuse in Robeson County each year. According to Boies, during in 2009, about 7 million people throughout the nation were using prescription drugs that they were not prescribed and one in 12 high school seniors had reported non-medical use of Vicodin. He said 56 percent of high school students report that it is easier to get prescription drugs than street drugs.
State Rep. Gaston L. Pridgen, the keynote speaker, asked all those in attendance to work together to solve the problem of prescription drug abuse.
“You have to face a problem before you can fix a problem, and I believe that any problem can be fixed,” Pridgen said. “It just takes everybody moving in the same direction.
“We’ve got two choices here, we can throw our hands up in the air and just say it’s too much, or we can all work together and head in the same direction. We can’t completely stop it but we can lower the rate and the person we save may be your son, or your daughter or sister or brother.”
State Rep. Charles Graham and state Sen. Michael Walters spoke about the General Assembly’s role in preventing prescription drugs from falling into the wrong hands. They encouraged people to take ownership of the problem while combating it.
Graham applauded the work being done to prevent drug and alcohol abuse by groups like Palmer Prevention.
“One ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Graham said.
Norton asked teenagers in attendance to speak about how they were fighting drug and alcohol abuse in their schools.
Flora McDonald Academy students said they were spreading awareness through drug education; Fairmont High School students said they were signing a pledge to stay drug free; Purnell Swett High School students said they were spreading awareness about the dangers of drunk driving and drug abuse; Lumberton High School students said they used a theatrical production to spread awareness.
Palmer Prevention is a private non-profit with locations in Lumberton and Pembroke that, according to its mission statement, aims to “reduce abuse and addiction to alcohol and other drugs in the community by promoting a sober, healthy, and spiritual foundation for youth and their families.” For information on the prevention of drug and alcohol abuse, call Palmer Prevention at 910-522-0421.