Surrounded by his classmates, Tommy listens as his teacher explains the difference between a bag of candy and a bag of pills. He learns the word “drug.” He begins to gain a basic understanding of the dangers of these substances.
Tommy’s in kindergarten.
The goal of Tommy’s Ohio school district is to reach Tommy – and all his fellow students – early and consistently with a health curriculum that teaches about substance abuse.
The Numbers Demand a Response
The opioid epidemic has consumed the nation, but Ohio has been hit particularly hard by its costs. This state has the highest number of opiate overdoses in the country. Over 3,000 people died from a drug overdose in Ohio in 2015 and these numbers continue to rise at a steady rate.
In response to these growing statistics, the Ohio legislature passed a new law for school districts. As of 2014, they’re required to choose a health curriculum that teaches the dangers of prescription opioid abuse.
The Ohio legislature completed a study which suggests the importance of going beyond the minimum requirements of the state law. It recommended “consistent, age-appropriate and evidence-based substance abuse prevention education from kindergarten through 12th grade.”
The same law also established the Governor’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team as an advisory committee to make recommendations for opioid prevention. This body suggested schools include instruction about the dangers of drugs for every grade level. Starting in kindergarten and extending through their senior year, kids should be exposed to age-appropriate curriculum that forms a foundation early in life about the dangers of substance abuse.
Creating a Curriculum of Hope
Currently, students in kindergarten through third grade receive four to five lessons throughout the school year to introduce them to the subject. In middle school and high school, Ohio students learn more in-depth about the impact drugs have on the body and the psychology of chemical dependency, as well as what can be done to help.
Trevor Thomas, superintendent of Heath City Schools, reports, “Some of these are hard conversations, but I think you’d be amazed at what a lot of the kids already know and they’re exposed to,” he said. “The shock value is not what you might imagine.”
The district is increasing its efforts for the 2018-19 school year. Curriculum planners are currently developing the Health and Opioid Abuse Prevention Education, or HOPE Curriculum, to use in grades K-12.
“We’re going to try to build on things that we do every year,” Thomas explains. “We see it as a great need in our district. Kids are hurting, so we need to step up and help them.”
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