High Schools in Pennsylvania are replacing the DARE drug program with heart-wrenching audio tapes of parents watching their children die, teens finding an overdosed friend and images of a brother burying his brother. Five hundred students listened to a 911 call of a mother finding her 17-year-old-son dead from an overdose of prescription drugs. The gym fell silent.
The audio of the 911 call was supposed to shock students into realizing the consequences. After listening to the call, students took turns holding the dead boy’s urn, which was a truly awakening experience for them. The audio was followed by images of hundreds of teenagers who have overdosed and died from prescription drugs. The images of the teenagers were the same ages as those in the assembly. A senior at the school said after the program, “It felt personal.” The presentation came from Narcotics Overdose Prevention and Education (NOPE). NOPE is just one organization that has been developed to fight the rising rates of overdoses of prescription drugs in students.
The CDC has reported that there were 16,000 deaths in 2013 due to opiate overdoses, which is a 50 percent increase over 2012. Laws were put into place to prevent teenagers from obtaining prescription drugs, which have consequently resulted in a rise in heroin use.
These new school programs are more targeted. Instead of the generalized “Don’t do drugs,” the program shows the students exactly what happened when someone took Vicodin, or Oxycodone, and asks them if the images are how they want to end up.
NOPE and other newer drug diversion programs were also created because the DARE program was cut so as to keep the focus on academics. IN addition, “Just Say No” was over-simplified, and becoming a joke among teenagers. NOPE aims to educate. Each hour-long assembly teaches students the symptoms of a drug overdose so they are prepared to help a classmate survive.
Prescription drugs are only safe if taken as prescribed to the patient to which the doctor prescribed them. Students are not told to avoid these medications, but rather to only take them when and how they are prescribed. NOPE gets students invested. Students develop a plan for a positive outcome in the hopes of saving even one life.
NOPE’s goal is to challenge the popular message encouraging drug use by giving the students solid facts about the dangers of abusing prescription drugs. This program came out of a broken system. Parents, leaders and even students do not know how to handle this type of drug use. Surveys have been collected from adolescents concerning their own drug use. These surveys are being used within the community and among school leaders to find the best program to encourage adolescents to think before participating in harmful activities.
Alcohol, marijuana and over-the-counter-medication such as Vicodin, Adderall and Xanax are the most common drugs abused by teenagers, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). If these drugs are taken at high doses for anything other than for which they are prescribed, serious health complications could occur. Trouble breathing, brain damage and often, death may occur, especially when these drugs are mixed with each other and chased with alcohol.
Prescription drugs do not require a third party to obtain, as they are in the bathroom medicine cabinet. Sometimes, students get together and combine whatever drugs they all can find in order to have “Skittle parties,” where all prescriptions are mixed in a bowl. These students could be combining benzoates, opiates, uppers and downers, and causing serious heart problems.
Since states have started to fight back against kids in medicine cabinets, some teens have turned to heroin. It is less expensive, easy to find and if the students are crushing the pills and snorting them, easy to take. Fifty percent of young people who were using prescription painkillers have turned to heroin.
Heroin is not less harmful. Deaths from heroin increased by 40 percent between 2012 and 2013, according to the CDC. The national death rate has been rising for three years. The issue is finding an effective drug prevention program to introduce into the schools. Scare tactics do not encourage people to stay away from drugs. In 2001, the United States Surgeon General announced that DARE was an ineffective prevention program. In its years of implementation, it has not lowered teen drug abuse at all.
NOPE teaches the dangers of prescription drugs using interactive computer programs with presentations that are approved by licensed professionals as well as those who lost loved ones to drug- and alcohol-related incidents. Students also learn to recognize the symptoms of a drug overdose and to call 911 when they see them.
By Jeanette Smith
Photo Courtesy of Mark Rain – Flickr License