Diabetes Alert Sticker Program Enhances Community Safety, Earns NASCAR Nationwide Series Driver's Support

Ryan ReedBRISTOL - Imagine seeing a car weaving in and out of its lane and eventually running off the side of the road.

It might seem like a clear case of someone driving under the influence, but officers and health officials who have witnessed this type of incident recognize something else might be at play. The driver might have diabetes and be experiencing a complication with the disease that is impacting his or her ability to drive properly.

Representatives of Bristol Motor Speedway, Wellmont Health System, Lilly Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association have joined NASCAR Nationwide series driver Ryan Reed, who is living with type 1 diabetes, to call attention to this issue. They held a news conference on Friday, March 14, at the World's Fastest Half Mile to tout the value of the Diabetes Alert sticker.

The event was held the day before the flag drops on the inaugural Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 presented by Lilly Diabetes at the speedway.

Wellmont developed the Diabetes Alert sticker, which is placed on a rear window and helps officers know they need to check whether the driver is having difficulties with diabetes instead of driving impaired. The health system has partnered with law enforcement officers locally and across the state to raise awareness that such a scenario might be in play.

"If you have never seen the symptoms of a high or low blood-sugar episode in a person with diabetes, you would probably assume the individual is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol," said Jim Perkins, director of Wellmont Diabetes Treatment Centers. "The Diabetes Alert sticker is a great way to help law enforcement identify individuals who might be prone to such an event."

The American Diabetes Association advises in addition to alerting law enforcement that a driver may have diabetes, it is important for law enforcement officers to receive training on diabetes in order to respond appropriately to diabetes emergencies.  The association works to educate law enforcement agencies about diabetes and has developed several training resources, including an educational video and accompanying poster, and diabetes information cards and diabetes medical alert wallet cards that can be kept in a person's vehicle.

Perkins commended police departments and sheriff's departments across the state for recognizing this potential medical issue. Mark Sirois, Johnson City's police chief, said these types of cases are not as rare as one might think.

"This has been a highly successful program that has contributed greatly to public safety and the health of motorists," Sirois said. "The Diabetes Alert sticker gives our officers important information that the driver of a vehicle pulled over or in an accident may be experiencing a diabetes emergency, and officers who respond can take necessary steps to secure medical care."

Multiple organizations put a lot of thought into this program, and appropriate safeguards were established to ensure Diabetes Alert stickers were provided to those people who needed them, Perkins said.

Stickers are available at 27 locations throughout Tennessee, which include four Wellmont hospitals and Wellmont Urgent Care in Johnson City, but require a prescription from a physician.

Reed, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 17, has collaborated with the American Diabetes Association on the Drive to Stop DiabetesSM initiative and is the driver of the No. 16 Drive to Stop DiabetesSM presented by Lilly Diabetes Ford Mustang in the NASCAR Nationwide series. He appreciates Wellmont and police agencies working together to establish and grow the sticker program. Reed has to take precautions to control his diabetes on and off the track and knows the potential health problems when something is amiss.

"As a professional driver living with diabetes, I know the dangers of having a high or low blood-sugar episode while behind the wheel," Reed said. "I have systems in place to deal with such an event during a race, including sources of fast-acting sugar in my car and a member of my pit crew who is trained to give me an insulin injection at a pit stop.

"However, most drivers with diabetes don't have that luxury. That's why the Diabetes Alert sticker is such a valuable tool to ensure no time is wasted in getting a person with diabetes the help they need in the event of such an episode."

Lilly Diabetes learned about the sticker program after deciding to sponsor the race. Lilly recognizes that the program is an excellent initiative that equally addresses the health needs of drivers and the need to ensure roads stay safe for all motorists.

"As the title sponsor of the Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 presented by Lilly Diabetes, we jumped at the opportunity to help raise awareness of this innovative Diabetes Alert sticker program here in Tennessee," said Kevin Cammack, senior marketing director, Lilly Diabetes.

"We have one focus at Lilly Diabetes: meeting the diverse needs of people with diabetes, through our broad portfolio of medicines and our support programs, which aim to educate, inform and inspire. This program aligns perfectly with that focus as it seeks to educate the public and law enforcement about the issues faced by people with diabetes."

Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to make or effectively use insulin. It affects nearly 26 million Americans. Locally, Sullivan County ranks in the top five in most diabetes categories in the state.

For more information about the stickers, please call Wellmont Diabetes Treatment Centers at 423-224-3575 or visit www.mydiabetesalert.com.

To access the American Diabetes Association's law enforcement training materials, please visit www.diabetes.org/policevideos.