Despite calls for more and better drug education to curb opioid addiction in Ohio, students in most local schools are not getting the level of comprehensive drug education recommended by experts and the Ohio Department of Education, according to a Dayton Daily News analysis.
With the passage of House Bill 367 in 2014, every school district in Ohio is required to include instruction on prescription opioid abuse prevention in its health curriculum. Gov. John Kasich’s Opiate Action Team recommends that the instruction be incorporated at every grade level from kindergarten through high school.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Drug Addiction say prevention education is vital in both primary and secondary school settings.
The newspaper sent surveys to 38 school districts in Butler, Warren, Montgomery, Greene, Miami, Clark and Champaign counties asking at what grade levels students get drug education, how much they receive and what kind. The 13 schools that responded represent both large and small districts, and span all counties.
At seven of those schools, students do not get drug education until sixth grade or later. At four more, students in fourth or fifth grade participate in D.A.R.E., in which police officers come to the schools and present programs aimed at drug prevention.
Only two responsive schools, Lakota Local School District and Mad River Local Schools, said they have a complete kindergarten through high school health curriculum that follows state guidelines for opioid education.
Waiting until sixth grade to talk to kids about drugs and addiction may be too late, experts say. Students are typically age 11 or 12 by then, yet some recovering addicts have t0ld this newspaper they started using drugs as young as 10 years old.
Since 2010, more than 30 teens ages 13 to 17 have died from opioid overdoses statewide, including a 13-year-old in Dayton, a 15-year-old in Springfield, and a 16-year-old in Xenia.
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“You’ve got to start in kindergarten and you’ve got to do something every year and it’s got to be age appropriate every year,” said Attorney General Mike DeWine, who helped lead a joint committee with lawmakers last year that recommended K-12 drug education. “If we think we’re going to do something in fifth grade and in ninth grade and that’s going to work, we’re crazy.”
Joshua Marshall, 25, who attended Chaminade Julienne High School in Dayton, said he thinks kids should be hearing more about drug addiction and recovery at an earlier age. Marshall, who is currently in recovery for alcohol addiction, said some the gripping testimonials he’s heard in treatment have had a great effect on him.
“If I had heard half this stuff when I was in high school… I probably would have known how to handle myself better,” he said.
DeWine: ‘Most schools are not doing enough’
Ohio law currently requires that every student receive 60 hours of health education in high school to graduate and that it must include drug, alcohol and tobacco prevention — and now specifically opioid abuse education.
But the law does not have specific requirements for younger students. State assessments also don’t track what type of drug education schools provide or how much.
The DOE’s recommendations include a framework called the Health and Opioid Abuse Prevention Education (HOPE) Curriculum.
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The middle and high school HOPE lessons are designed for a licensed health education teacher to implement within a health class, while the elementary curriculum is designed for a classroom teacher to implement in 20-minute lessons that are aligned with language arts standards.
HOPE is also designed to be part of a larger substance abuse prevention unit within a school’s health education curriculum.
Although many schools are using D.A.R.E., the instruction doesn’t give students enough exposure to drug education, according to DeWine.
“D.A.R.E is only a half a year or a year,” said DeWine, a Republican who is running for governor. “What you really need is K through 12. Most schools are not doing enough.”
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Parents at the recent Your Voice Ohio opioid forums that this newspaper helped sponsor also criticized drug education programs that merely emphasize “refusal techniques” — what some refer to the “Just Say No” message that was first taught to kids in the 1980s and ’90s.
They discussed teaching about the science of addiction, how opioids affect the brain, destigmatizing mental health disorders, as well as coping skills for stress and trauma so kids can avoid destructive behaviors down the road.
A ‘monumental job’
The level of drug education provided by some schools is difficult to measure. Many local districts don’t have specific drug education programs in elementary schools, but use the PAX Good Behavior Game in some or all classrooms.
PAX teaches students self-regulation, self-control, and self-management while collaborating with others — curriculum that local teachers say improves both academic performance and has drug prevention benefits. A Johns Hopkins study found kids who participated in PAX in first grade were less likely to develop serious drug or alcohol addictions in adulthood.
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Some schools also said they try and integrate drug prevention messages into other subjects — even at grade levels where a formal drug education curriculum isn’t taught.
“Drug education is sprinkled into our science classes at times and our school resource officers and school nurses provide information when appropriate,” said Michael Moore, director of curriculum for Troy City Schools. Students in the district participate in D.A.R.E. in fifth grade and one semester of health with drug education in both junior high and high school, he said.
School instruction is only part of the answer to reducing addiction rates, school officials emphasized.
“Educating students about the dangers of drugs and the impact that drugs have on our society is a monumental job for all of us,” said Todd Yohey, superintendent of Lebanon City Schools. “Getting drug education to stick is difficult when the adults in a child’s life do not take responsibility for their own behaviors.”
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