Opioid epidemic brings updates, renewal to programs targeting young children

When Deputy Angie Hamilton shows fifth- and sixth-graders before-and-after photos of drug users, they usually respond in the same way, exclaiming in unison, “ew,” and “gross.”

She uses the photos, which show open sores, bad teeth and quickly aging users, as part of her opioid education presentations as a Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) officer for schools in Ashland County, Ohio, located between Cleveland and Columbus.

The presentations — similar to other drug programs she leads — involve teaching children the effects of the drugs and how to be safe. They also involve role playing to help give children the confidence to ward off peer pressure.

“My hope is they will be more apt to say, ‘No,’” Hamilton said.

Across the country, the opioid crisis has led communities to see how they can curb increasing rates of opioid use. Some communities are even seeking to bring back D.A.R.E. programs, including those in New Jersey, even though the statewide D.A.R.E. group there suffered legal setbacks during a dispute over whether programming was effective or not.

“We need to create a culture and a climate that is hostile to drug use,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said.

A U.S. surgeon general report stated in 2001 that the D.A.R.E. program was ineffective, noting studies consistently found little or no deterrent effects on substance use. But the organization said that research is now outdated, and it later partnered with Arizona and Penn state universities to develop a new curriculum, called keepin’ it REAL, that the organization has defended as an evidence-based program.

Meanwhile, drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death for Americans who are under the age of 50, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on July 11 in Texas at D.A.R.E.’s 30th annual international training conference. He said the country needs to emphasize prevention efforts.

“We need to create a culture and a climate that is hostile to drug use,” Sessions said. “Our young people must understand that drugs are dangerous, that drugs will destroy their futures, or worse yet, end their lives.”

One program returns under new name

One drug education program has returned in North Haven, Connecticut, through a revamped effort. It previously existed as D.A.R.E., but it’s now called the Middle School Drug Education Program. It has already entailed a broader approach that covers issues like internet safety and the 1999 Columbine…

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