Schools respond to drug initiative

A new initiative is making money available to schools to spread the word about drug abuse prevention.

Gov. John Kasich on Wednesday kicked off his Start Talking program, aimed at educating middle and high school students about being drug-free. Its main goals include providing parents, guardians, educators and community leaders the tools they need to engage in conversations with youths about the importance of leading healthy, drug-free lives, he said.

It draws from new and existing drug prevention programs, including 5 Minutes for Life, Know!, Parents360RX and Building Youth Resiliency.

Roughly two out of 10 of high school students reported that at least once they used prescription pain relievers or painkillers without a doctor’s prescription, according to a 2011 survey of ninth- to 12th-graders by Ohio’s Health Department.

Under the initiative, qualifying public schools and nonprofit organizations can apply for federal dollars to implement new drug prevention programs in low-income areas starting this fall.

Liberty Schools Superintendent Stan Watson said the grants are something his district may pursue. “It certainly would be something we’d be very much interested in. Obviously, schools are reflections of communities … we’re always looking at putting more tools in the toolbox,” he said.

Liberty currently utilizes several drug abuse prevention programs, including Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), Prevent and Neutralize Drug Abuse (PANDA), the Just Say No Program as well as Liberty Leaders – a program that involves high school students who mentor younger students in the schools.

“The job is never complete. Our teachers on a less formal basis are always working and talking and discussing these issues. This Start Talking program would certainly be an initiative that we’re going to explore further,” he said.

Anthony Davis, district family engagement coordinator for Warren City Schools, said Kasich’s initiative will help.

“That’s an area where we definitely want to give our children and our families all the information we can to battle some of the drug problems that we have in the area,” he said.

Davis, a retired state trooper and local pastor, said he sees the issue from multiple angles.

“As a state trooper, one of the portions of my job was incarcerating people. Hopefully, we can give (students) the information, the love, so that they won’t have to face that. You handle the good and the bad, you are helping someone in some way whether they are aware of it or not,” he said.

Attorney General Mike DeWine calls heroin abuse an epidemic, killing at least 11 Ohioans a week. DeWine’s office says more than 600 heroin overdose deaths occurred in the state in 2012, a figure that was more than double from the number in 2010.

Tracy Plouck, director of the state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said tackling the issue of drug abuse prevention is critical at the middle school level.

Howland Middle School Principal Kevin Spicher agrees.

“I firmly believe that teachers and administrators in a middle school setting can be used in the (students’) decision-making process. We wouldn’t be opposed to any initiative that would foster development of additional drug-free progs like Start Talking,” he said.

Spicher said it is important to give students the better potential for a life free from drugs and alcohol as well as show them the positive effects of staying away from drugs. He said his district supports that with drug intervention education in health and physical education classes and by bringing in motivational speakers.

Spicher also said the additional funding for the Start Talking program is something Howland Schools may pursue.

Eligible districts can begin applying for the funding as soon as the Request for Application is posted to the Start Talking website, Locations are limited to Ohio schools, where 40 percent or more of the student population is eligible for the Free and Reduced Lunch Program. The programming must be school-based and focus on students in grades 5 to 9.

The deadline for submission is 2 p.m. Feb. 14, and awardees must be ready to implement the programs by Sept. 1. The money will be awarded on April 1.

Plouck declined to disclose the amount of the grant program, saying the state wants to first assess the quality of the proposals.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.