Nurse Honored for Prescription Drug Abuse Efforts

Gary Speed Marie Award UAMS nurse Gary Speed (center) receives the 2013 Marie Interfaith Civic Leadership Award from Paul Spitzberg (left) and Irving Spitzberg.

Oct. 14, 2013 | Every day in the United States, 2,500 youth abuse a prescription pain reliever for the first time. This fact is all too familiar to Gary Speed, R.N., a cardiac nurse at UAMS, after his 17-year-old son, Albert, died from a prescription drug overdose in 2006.

After his son’s death, Speed has found new purpose in becoming a driving force behind the Arkansas Prescription Drug Take Back Initiative, sponsored by the Arkansas Drug Director’s Office, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and other local law enforcement agencies. The program encourages the public to dispose of unused medications from their homes to prevent improper use. 

“In dealing with the loss of my son, it was very important for me to find meaning and purpose in his death,” Speed said. “I found that meaning by telling other parents to be aware of the prescription drug problem and by telling teens not to give up their dreams by abusing pills. Prescription drugs have a very important role in our lives, but it is very important that they be used correctly.”

In recognition of his efforts, Speed was awarded the 2013 Marie Interfaith Civic Leadership Award during an Oct. 1 reception at The Main Library Darragh Center Auditorium in Little Rock.  The award recognizes outstanding Arkansans who have made a significant contribution to the advancement of the public interest by word, action and example through civic service.

Speed was chosen by members of the nonprofit Marie Interfaith Civic Leadership Award Steering Committee, headed by Rev. Stephen Copley. The award was founded in 2004 by Irving and Paul Spitzberg to honor their mother, Marie Spitzberg.

“The Marie Award recognizes the urgent problem in Arkansas related to the diversion of medications in our homes for abuse by friends and family members,” Speed said. “Although I have been involved in Rotary and Scouting for about 20 years, and have received a number of honors, this has been the most meaningful project I have been involved in because it saves lives.”

Speed is active with the Arkansas Drug Director’s Prescription Drug Task Force and has helped promote six statewide Take Back Initiative events since 2010. He speaks regularly to local civic and youth groups and has worked to increase the number of drug collection sites in Pulaski County including bringing a 24-hour drug drop box to the UAMS Emergency Department waiting room.

Realizing the urgent need to educate parents and teenagers of the dangers of prescription drug use, Speed helped organize a 13-minute educational video by Carolyn Long and Jones Television for use with civic and youth groups. He is an adult advisor to Venture Crew 30 at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Little Rock, which participates in drug take back events by dressing up as pills and pill bottles to promote collection sites.

“The kids have a lot of fun with it and it helps send the message to other youth that it can be cool to stand up against prescription drug abuse,” he said. “I am very proud of my youth group.”

Speed, who is also an intellectual property lawyer at the Speed Law Firm in Little Rock, graduated from the UAMS Emergency Medical Services (EMS) program in 2009 and is a licensed paramedic and registered nurse. He is a member and past president of the West Little Rock Rotary Club and has served as district governor of District 6150 in 1999-2000, District Rotary Foundation Chair, and as the 2010 delegate to the Rotary International Council on Legislation in Chicago.

The Take Back Initiative is working to put a 24-hour drug drop box in every county in the state. Along with a drop box at UAMS, there is a 24-hour drop box at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, both funded by Rotary grants and law enforcement agencies in Pulaski County. The next statewide take back event is scheduled for Oct. 26 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visit artakeback.org for more information.

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