PEPPERELL -- Tracie Ezzio has seen a lot in her time as a pharmacist at Pepperell Family Pharmacy. Over the years, she has met numerous patients with substance abuse problems, and while she's tried to help them get through it, not all have succeeded.

"There's not one person who hasn't been touched by drug abuse. From both the pharmacist perspective and the parent perspective, I've seen that," Ezzio said.

So when Therese LaRose founded North Middlesex Cares last year to raise awareness about prescription drug abuse in Pepperell, Ezzio was one of several volunteers to join the organization.

"It's a resource available that the community needs to be aware of, because it can make the difference between life and death. Heroin is so rampant in this town, and education is the key," Ezzio said.

On National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day April 26, NM Cares held its first event, setting up a booth to promote awareness of prescription drug abuse at the Pepperell Family Pharmacy.

"We're really trying to get awareness out on prescription drug use and misuse and get the community involved," LaRose said. "It's really about taking the stigma away, and making sure that people aren't afraid to talk so our community can be stronger."

LaRose went to the Board of Health last year for permission to form the group after seeing what she describes as a growing substance abuse problem in the area.

"I think a lot of people just don't get these drugs become so addictive. And now you have kids going right for it. It's so addictive. It's immediate," she said.

She said she wanted to make people aware that the Pepperell Police Department has a year-round drug drop-off box to encourage people to turn in their unused medications.

One of the group's next steps, LaRose said, is to try to partner with the local schools to hold drug awareness events for students. On June 4 at 6:30 p.m., NM Cares will host its next event, a talk by former addict Jeff Cook at Nissitissit Middle School.

Mary Morgan, another member of NM Cares, said the problem of prescription drug abuse, which often eventually turns into heroin abuse, is a growing problem.

"On the surface it doesn't appear to be a problem, but the more you talk to people, the more you hear about heroin as a problem," Morgan said.

Another goal, Morgan said, is to make people aware of the importance of not sharing prescription drugs, which can be very dangerous.

According to Ezzio, one of the biggest causes in the prescription drug abuse boom is a lack of funding and resources. That's why local groups like NM Cares are so crucial, she said.

"Every person's life you can save is so important. Groups like this make a difference because of the education and because of the caring. Everyone here cares," Ezzio said.

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