Education that’s factual — not based on scare tactics — is the most effective, and least costly, way to attack any substance abuse issue. It prevents problems by getting people to understand the health consequences of their actions and then to change their behavior.
One Ohioan dies from a drug overdose every five hours. Our state faces an epidemic of opiate addiction. In response, Gov. John Kasich’s administration has launched a drug abuse prevention initiative called Start Talking!
It aims especially to improve communication among young people and their parents and schools. Start Talking follows earlier state efforts to shut down “pill mills,” tighten prescription guidelines for pain medication, and expand drug treatment.
Roughly two of 10 high school students reported having used prescription painkillers without a doctor’s prescription, according to a 2011 survey of 9th to 12th graders by Ohio’s health department. Prescription drugs such as Vicodin can lead to an opiate addiction that’s most easily, and cheaply, fed by street drugs such as heroin.
One of four Start Talking programs — “Know!” — targets the parents and caregivers of middle school students. It gives them, through emails, tips on talking to their children. Another program, Parents360 Rx, provides educational tool kits to parents and school leaders, including videos, so they can talk more knowledgeably and confidently to young people. (To learn more, go to Starttalking.ohio.gov).
Research shows that children with parents who talk to them about substance abuse are as much as 50 percent less likely to use alcohol or other drugs, said Eric Wandersleben, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
“Youth drug prevention doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective,” Mr. Wandersleben told The Blade’s editorial page. “A lot of parents are reluctant to talk to their kids about drug use. We’re giving them tools to have those frequent, ongoing conversations, without using fear-based scare tactics.”
Although laudable, Start Talking needs to place greater emphasis on peer-to-peer communications. One Start Talking program, 5 Minutes for Life, has the Ohio Highway Patrol and the Ohio National Guard partnering with high schools to encourage student athletes to become peer ambassadors in promoting healthy behavior. That’s useful.
Still, young people who have been addicted to drugs need to become part of Start Talking too. Because they have felt the downside of opiate highs, they can use their experience, and their credibility as peers, to speak honestly about addiction — whether one on one, in groups, or through media public service announcements.
The Ohio Youth-Led Prevention Network uses peer prevention efforts effectively. There’s no reason the state should not make such efforts a central part of its latest drug abuse prevention initiative.