Attorney General Wants More Drug Prevention Lessons in School

Amy O’Grady, Director of Criminal Justice Initiatives for the Ohio Attorney General, addresses Ohio Board of Education
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Ohio schools may increase or expand their anti-drug message to students.  Attorney General Mike DeWine says eight Ohioans die each day from drug overdoses and he wants schools to help reduce the problem.  In a new report, the Joint Committee on Drug Use Prevention, made up of DeWine, House Speaker Clifford Rosenberger, and former Senate President Keith Faber, called on schools to help.

But members of the state board of education remember past failures. 

Amy O'Grady from the state Attorney General's office told the board that they have traveled the state talking to parents, teachers, and experts about drugs.

“We heard anything from ‘Gosh I really loved meeting that police  officer when I was a young kid, and I wish I had more DARE, “ she said.   “Then we heard the opposite.  It was certainly interesting depending on where you went , who that difference maker was in theta child’s life.”  

Schools are already required to teach about prescription opioid abuse prevention and the harmful effects of the use of drugs of abuse, alcoholic beverages, and tobacco as part of the health education

One recommendation of the Joint Committee report called for local districts to report back to the state these following points:

1. How are schools providing this instruction; 2. What curricula are being used; and 3. During which grade levels are youth exposed to this content. While standards with testing would be the best mechanism to ensure drug and alcohol education and prevention principles are being taught annually in all Ohio schools, the Study Committee is not recommending this, which could add to schools’ current testing burden. Instead, this reporting requirement would provide a statewide baseline of what students are being taught.

In the 1970's anti-drug classes unintentionally taught kids how to take drugs, not prevent them. It happened again in the 90’s. That’s why Ohio school board member Sarah Fowler wondered about ramping up these classes again.

“I’ve talked to some former instructors from DARE who even discouraged that as the means of communication for the drug problem feeling like, retrospectively, it may have contributed to the problem,” said Fowler. 

But programs like DARE have a new way of doing things, according to Amy O'Grady from the state Attorney General's office.

“They’ve actually changed the curriculum to allow a lot more social and emotional learning curriculum, particularly in the lower grade levels,” said O'Grady.  

Social emotional learning is meant to teach children how to make good decisions.  O’Grady told the Board that her own daughter has shown results.

“When she was in the 1st grade she talked about being a responsible consumer of medication.  I about fell over.  I thought ‘How does a 1st grader know this?’  But it’s because, at the time, she heard age-appropriate lessons about not taking pills out of the medicine cabinet and listening to me and listening to trusted adults.” 

Some board members brought up that drug abuse is starting in the home by adults becoming addicted to pain management prescriptions.

O’Grady said they are trying every angle as they can. “Believe me, we do not believe this is just a school issue.”

Member Nick Owens is an assistant prosecutor in Brown County which leads the state in per capita overdose deaths. 

“We can have a wonderful report and beautiful flyers but if they’re not getting into the right hands it doesn’t really matter.”

O’Grady says they are communication with school superintendents on down to school nurses and teachers.  Outside of the schools, she says, they will look to community partners.  In Ross County, she noted, volunteers were passing out drug literature at football games. 

The Joint Committee on Drug Use Prevention recommends schools survey their students and community to measure results. O’Grady says every district can try its own method of drug prevention but the AG’s office wants schools to report back to the state on how they do it.  It wants the Ohio Department of Education to develop guidelines. 

Some sample programs cited by the report:

The school districts listed below are already incorporating some of the Study Committee recommendations. Their efforts can be used as guides to learn more about incorporating substance abuse and social and emotional learning education within a curriculum, as well as involving the community to support students’ health and well-being.

 

Boardman School District

The Boardman School District, located in Northeast Ohio, uses a science-based prevention curriculum developed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse called Brain Power. This curriculum is offered for Kindergarten through 12th grade. The science teachers integrate the Brain Power lessons into their curriculum in Kindergarten through 8th grade by one of the following: 1. Setting aside five to eight class periods per year for drug education or 2. Devoting one solid week to the lessons. In high school, science teachers select the companion program, “The Brain: Understanding Neurobiology by Studying the Process of Addiction,” and teach five to eight classes in grades nine through 12, integrated into biology, chemistry, or anatomy.

Talawanda School District

The Talawanda School District, located in Southwest Ohio, is committed to a comprehensive approach to addressing youth substance abuse. The philosophy of the district is to address the whole child; they believe that “healthy learners are better learners.” Its curricular and evidence-based practices span Kindergarten through 12th grade and intentionally engage sectors of the community to achieve measurable outcomes.

The Talawanda Health Coordinating Council is based on the Center for Disease Control’s Coordinated School Health Model. This body, within the school district, is comprised of faculty, staff, and community members who have a vested interest in the health and safety of Talawanda youth. The mission is to minimize the non-academic barriers to learning for students through policy, practice, and program. The Council acts as a clearinghouse to help ensure that proposals align with the district’s health curriculum for Kindergarten through 12th grade and reinforce consistent messages. In addition, this body tracks new legislation and policy related to school and community wellness that may impact students and regularly makes recommendations to the Superintendent and Board of Education on these critical issues.

Evidenced-based practices guide the district’s drug prevention work. From the inception of a Student Assistance Program to youth-led prevention efforts to most recently exploring the adoption of SBIRT in the schools, Talawanda is continually looking for research-based strategies. The district’s goal is to educate their students, provide them with necessary supports and alternatives, and continue to focus on strength-based models for youth.

Cleveland Metropolitan School District

Cleveland Metropolitan School District students in grades Kindergarten through 12 receive Health and Physical Education courses that assist students in developing resilience and coping skills, learning and applying critical thinking skills, and building healthy relationships with others. The curriculum emphasizes the need for students to learn and apply factors that lead to a healthy lifestyle, including personal engagement and responsibility for lifelong health and wellness. The Cleveland Metropolitan School District also implements social and emotional learning concepts, which support students in gaining knowledge and skills in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship-building, and responsible decision-making.

 

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