The state of Ohio has taken a step forward in the direction of utilizing drug-abuse-prevention education as a tool to strengthen its fight against the opioid epidemic. By adopting an inside out approach, the state has shifted the emphasis on restructuring classroom lessons, right from kindergarten, to spread awareness about the perils of opioid epidemic and teach children to say no to drugs.
This shift in approach has the potential to be a stitch in time, as Ohio has the second highest rate of drug overdose deaths. As per statistics, around 4,329 people lost their lives in 2016 due to a drug overdose. Further, an increasing number of grandparents or other relatives are being forced to take up the responsibility of primary caregivers as parents are falling prey to addiction. Additionally, kindergarten and young children have been found to exhibit trouble regulating emotions and outbursts in the last few years, as reported by several educators and principals of schools based out of Ohio.
Until recently, organizations and schools had been relying on scare tactics to influence the opinions of children. Through this restructuring, imparting education and information will continue to happen, but it will be by reciting the facts about the toll drugs take on the body on a regular basis. Teachers would lead by example by staying away from substances of abuse, discussing real-life situations and making the children aware of ways that can help them gain emotional and social coping skills to fight drug dependence or seek help when dependent.
Joy Edgell, principal of the Belpre Elementary School in southeastern Ohio, began a pilot of the Health and Opioid Prevention Education (HOPE) program and is overwhelmed with the results. Developed by Kevin Lorson, a health and physical educator at the Wright State University and a team of doctors, HOPE received a grant from the Ohio Department of Higher Education.
Elaborating further, Edgell cited a three-year-old incident when a first-grader had brought a heroin needle to school in her backpack while trying to keep her younger sibling from stepping on it. When asked where she found it, the kid innocently explained how her father used it.
Shedding further light on the program benefits, the principal detailed how its merits have been incorporated into classroom teaching, citing two of the many lessons that the teachers of her school have been implementing. While one taught the children the meaning of “trusted adults”, the second emphasized the importance of never taking or touching medicines unless helped by a trusted adult.
The integration of the core values of the HOPE program into classroom teaching has received a mixed response. Some policymakers have said that early prevention education sounds good in theory, but may be difficult to implement as the Ohio law prohibits the State Board of Education from establishing health education standards or forcing more than 600 school districts to follow a specific approach. However, looking at the extent of the problem in Ohio, it seems to be the best option available so far.
While it is true that the long-term effects of drug education are difficult to measure, Lorson feels that the focus on the key concepts and skills of the HOPE program will help people unite and spread rapid awareness. “I don’t know if HOPE is the magic bullet,” he said, highlighting that instead of focusing on too many things at a time, it is best to utilize the most potential resource to bring about the desired change.
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