Regional effort to curb prescription drug abuse announced

SARASOTA -- Officials representing hospitals and health departments in four counties, including Manatee, have kicked off a joint campaign designed to halt prescription drug abuse.

The group hopes its work through the “2011 Safe Rx Campaign” will more effectively address the problem, officials said Monday.

They represent 12 hospitals and four health departments in Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte and DeSoto counties.

Officials announced 2011 as the “year of the campaign for responsible prescriptions” during a press conference Monday in Sarasota.

In 2009, the four-county region recorded 249 deaths due to drug abuse, with 213 cases caused by prescription medications.

That year across Florida, prescription drugs accounted for 79 percent of all drug-related deaths, with the pain killer Oxycodone the leading cause.

“We became very alarmed by the statistics current for our region, in terms of the number of people affected by this,” said Mary Ruiz, president and chief executive officer at Manatee Glens, a private behavioral health hospital and outpatient practice in Bradenton.

“We used to see this with heroin or cocaine causing deaths, and now it’s prescription drugs,” she said after the press conference.

Other Manatee County participants include representatives of Blake Medical Center, Manatee Memorial and Lakewood Ranch hospitals, and the Manatee County Health Department.

“I think that’s one of many steps that need to be taken, we obviously have a serious problem in our state and in our nation,” said Ruth Lyerly, of Bradenton, whose 18-year-old son, Todd Peurifoy, committed suicide after apparently deciding that no one could help him overcome a prescription drug addiction.

The group plans to:

n Help physicians and other medical professionals recognize and fight prescription drug abuse.

n Educate patients about safe storage and disposal of prescription drugs.

n Document the extent of the prescription drug epidemic.

“Our hope is that the rate of misuse will be curbed in those counties already experiencing a serious problem, and prevented from spreading to communities where the issue is not currently as serious,” said Dr. Jennifer Bencie, administrator for the Manatee County Health Department.

She hoped that, by addressing the issue together, all could learn from each other, share tools and best practices, and raise awareness, she said.

Bringing leaders together should help spearhead change, said Kari Ellingstad, director of the Community Health Improvement Partnership, a Sarasota-based effort to draw community leaders into health planning.

“We’re trying to emphasize this effort is part of a bigger picture,” she said.

Hospitals and health departments are coordinating with law enforcement agencies and others, she said, adding, “We’re really excited about the reach of this to make a difference across the region.”

Anyone needing help with a drug problem can go to Manatee Glens Walk-in Center, at 371 6th Ave. W., for a free evaluation, or consult its online site at, she said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.