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Our View: Early, continued emphasis on drug education key part of fight against opioid epidemic

We continue to be encouraged about the apparent downward trend of drug and alcohol overdoses in Carroll County. According to statistics collected by the Sheriff’s Office, there were 41 overdoses in August 2018, compared with 34 this August. Comparing the first eight months of 2018 to the first eight months of 2019, the report shows a 24 percent decrease, from 368 total overdoses to 279. There were four overdose deaths last month, compared to two in August 2018, but the first eight months of this year compared to last shows a 39 percent decrease in fatalities.

Making significant inroads against the opioid epidemic likely will not be a straight line progression. One bad month, or even a particularly tragic weekend, can affect the statistics in a major way. This battle will be fought not over eight months but more like eight years and the only way to win is to make an impact on our youth, a topic that was talked about during Thursday’s joint meeting between the county commissioners and the Board of Education. They discussed how more than $50,000 in grants will be used this year, the importance of educating students at all levels in different ways about the dangers of drug use and about the way the various agencies work together.

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There’s a need for a different kind of drug education in 2019 from what previous generations needed.

“When I was growing up, we had kids dying, not the parents. Now it’s changed. We have more parents [dying],” BOE member Tara Battaglia said Thursday.

Fellow BOE member Kenneth Kiler noted that in many cases, the “the kid’s way more aware of drugs than we wish he was because mom OD’d or dad’s high every night.”

“These kids are dealing with some heavy baggage because of the older generation’s drug use,” he continued. “When we talk about drug awareness, it’s great that mom and dad are scared to death that their kid is going to use drugs, but some of these kids go home to mom and dad using drugs — and they’re scared to death.”

Chris Tobias, assistant supervisor or health for Carroll County Public Schools, outlined for the commissioners how programs are in place to deal with kids who have been through trauma because of their family life, and also about initiatives done in conjunction with the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Health Department. She discussed what has been built into the curriculum for all age groups. It begins in kindergarten, teaching about safe uses of medicine and saying no, carries into elementary school, when the dangers of vaping, alcohol, and marijuana are introduced, and then to middle school and high school instruction that includes videos like “Dear Future Me” (positive social norming) and “Heroin Still Kills” (which introduces them to the dangers of fentanyl) as well as information about “modern” marijuana, focusing on concentrates, edibles and oils.

“It takes away from other education but developing the child instead of fixing the adult is a major part of it. I believe that 100 percent,” Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, said during the meeting.

“Hopefully we’re planting the seeds to help them make good choices,” BOE member Patricia Dorsey said.

Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, noted that education and prevention at a younger level is “vitally important,” using as an example his firsthand experience with his daughter, who died of an overdose.

“To learn how young she had been introduced to narcotics was astounding to me. As a parent I was totally unaware,” he said. "So the fact that we have the prevention education at such a young age is a fantastic component to help us win this battle. As [Carroll County Health Officer] Ed Singer always says, it’s hard to gauge the success of this because that success is long term and we are in a long-term battle.”

Indeed. While it may be many years before we see the results of what is being done today educationally, we are pleased to see the emphasis placed on beginning that education early and continuing it through the entirety of a student’s schooling.

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