Md. program will fight heroin addiction in schools

Lt Gov Boyd Rutherford, Republican of Maryland, launched a statewide initiative this morning aimed at fighting heroin addiction in the state. Together with Jack Smith, the state superintendent of schools, the initiative will use a student-based public education prevention campaign that stems from recommendations made in an interim report from the state’s Heroin Task Force.

TOWSON (Oct 1) — The campaign was launched after Project Citizen presented an analysis of the local issue of heroin and opioid addiction and possible ways to prevent it. (Richard Lippenholz / Maryland GovPics / Flickr CC)

The announcement of the campaign came this morning at Towson High School, which offers a law and public policy magnet program to students in Baltimore County Public Schools. Students in the Project Citizen program analyze local issues every year and present possible solutions to panels of lawmakers and public officials.

Following this year’s presentation, the lieutenant governor spoke with ninth- and 10th-grade students about risk, identification, treatment, and prevention.

“Education campaigns, like the one we are announcing today, are a vital component of a comprehensive strategy to combat drug abuse and addiction,” Mr Rutherford said. “Prescription drug abuse in particular is on the rise among young people because they think it’s safer than heroin or other drugs. We need to open up this dialogue as early as possible and start educating kids at a young age.”

The campaign is a joint effort between the Hogan administration and the Maryland State Department of Education. The coordinated, multi-tiered public education initiative is focused on prevention by discouraging teens and preteens from trying opioids or heroin even once. It is intended to educate students and parents on how to identify and respond to signs of addiction and how to access support services.

“Schools have an important role to play in educating children about the danger of these drugs,” Mr Smith said. “The best way to reduce drug abuse is to stop it before it begins.”

The MSDE has also made plans to partner with local systems and community organizations to increase awareness of the heroin crisis and of available resources. The agency will also incorporate heroin and opioid addiction prevention in the state health curriculum earlier and in a broader way, infuse the topic into additional disciplines and content areas, and integrate addiction prevention as a topic that could be addressed in service learning projects.

The campaign is an outgrowth of Gov Larry Hogan’s statewide focus on heroin and opioid abuse and was included in the list of 10 recommendations from the Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force’s Interim Report, released in August.

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Last month, Voxitatis reported on more than 100 diverse magnet programs available to students in Baltimore County Public Schools, among them, the Law and Public Policy magnet program at Towson, which provides here the student driving force behind the campaign. For more info on the program, attend the Open House on Tuesday, October 6.

In March, we reported that heroin use by Maryland high school students was higher than the national average. “Based on the CDC’s data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the percentage of high school students in the US who have ever used heroin didn’t change significantly from 2005 to 2013,” we wrote.

The graph that accompanied our report of heroin abuse by Maryland high school students.

“However, the percentage of high school students in Maryland who have ever used the drug nearly doubled over that period, going from 2.55 percent in 2005 to 4.91 percent in 2013, representing a statistically significant increase in heroin use …”

In August 2012, we reported that high schoolers smoke, drink, and do drugs, even at school. “Most high school students (52 percent) know at least one friend or classmate who uses illegal drugs like acid, ecstasy, meth, cocaine or heroin; a third (33 percent) know at least one friend or classmate who abuses controlled prescription drugs or over the counter medicines to get high,” we wrote, citing a study conducted by CASAColumbia, a science-based, multidisciplinary organization founded in 1992 and focused on transforming society’s understanding of and response to the disease of addiction.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.