To prevent the spread of Ohio’s opioid and heroin epidemic, the state House should approve a sensible measure that would require school health curricula to include instruction on prescription opioid abuse.
Current law requires health instruction in public schools to include, among other topics, nutrition, drug abuse, alcohol, tobacco, venereal disease, and personal safety. Given the widespread abuse of prescription painkillers, which has largely created Ohio’s heroin epidemic, the state also should require local school districts to cover prescription opioids.
The House bill specifies that school health curricula clarify the link between prescription opioid abuse and addiction to other drugs such as heroin.
“It’s a simple bill that I think will have a powerful effect,” one of the bill’s sponsors, state Rep. Robert Sprague (R., Findlay) told The Blade’s editorial page. “Our kids need to understand the link between taking pills at a party and getting addicted to heroin.”
The bill would require Gov. John Kasich’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team to submit, by July 1, recommendations for teaching about prescription opioid abuse to the Ohio Department of Education. Those ideas would assist school districts in developing their health curricula.
From the late 1990s to 2010, distribution rates for prescription opioids in Ohio increased ninefold. Meanwhile, the rates of fatal overdoses from these drugs increased almost in equal measure. Enough opioids now are legally dispensed to supply nearly 70 doses a year to every man, woman, and child in the state.
An estimated 8 of 10 heroin addicts in Ohio started their addiction with prescription opioids such as OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet. These drugs affect the same receptors in the brain as chemically similar heroin, releasing large amounts of dopamine that give some users energy and a sense of euphoria.
Many young people and adults believe that prescription opioids are safe, probably because, unlike heroin and other street drugs, they can be legally obtained when they are prescribed by a physician. Education is essential to correcting that misconception.
The body can become dependent on opioids within weeks, with escalating levels of tolerance. Withdrawal symptoms include spasms, chills, aching bones and muscles, vomiting, diarrhea, intense cravings, and depression.
At least 200,000 Ohioans are addicted to opioids, including heroin. In 2011, the latest year for which figures are available from the state Health Department, 1,154 Ohioans died from an overdose of heroin or other opioids — an increase of nearly 50 percent from two years earlier.
Education and prevention are the easiest and most economical ways to alleviate a drug epidemic. Some school districts may incur minimal costs to update their health curricula to meet the bill’s requirements, the Ohio Legislative Service Commission reports.
Educating young people about the risks of widespread opioid abuse — and ultimately saving lives — is certainly worth that expense.