This post was contributed by Sean Fearns, Chief of Community Outreach, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
No community has been immune from America’s opioid epidemic.
Many people know someone that has battled addiction to prescription opioids or heroin. With 11 million Americans ages 12 and older reporting misuse of prescription opioids in the past year, and nearly 950,000 Americans reporting heroin use in the same span of time, addiction statistics have only gotten worse. Drug overdose deaths are expected to exceed 64,000 in 2016 – accounting for 175 deaths per day – and drug overdoses are now the leading cause of injury-related death in the United States, outnumbering both traffic crashes and gun-related deaths.
Educators, families, and community leaders must work together to attack this epidemic, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is proud to work alongside Discovery Education to activate life-saving conversations about drug-free living through Operation Prevention.
About two years ago, dedicated teams from the DEA and Discovery Education met to study the opioid crisis in America and plan our response. Quickly, we learned that we were dealing with a widespread disease cutting across lines of age, race, gender and wealth in both the most impoverished and affluent communities in the country.
Further review of the research also showed that while some regions, such as the Northeast, the Ohio Valley, and the Intermountain West had higher incidences of overdoses, this truly was a nationwide issue rapidly advancing in every state and community. Another important data point that surfaced in our review came courtesy of Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (NCASA). In 2011, the NCASA revealed that 90 percent of Americans who suffered from addiction started abusing substances before age 18.
While young people are the most vulnerable to misusing substances, they are also the most susceptible to being influenced in their decision making. If students could learn at a young age about the science behind addiction, appropriate practices of prescription medication, and the consequences of substance abuse, they may become less likely to experiment with them in the future. Based on this idea and the clear need for a nationwide initiative, the DEA and Discovery Education quickly began planning their response to the nation’s opioid epidemic.
The DEA and Discovery Education’s response, Operation Prevention was launched in September 2016. Operation Prevention is a national, standards-aligned initiative developed to educate students about the science behind opioids and their impact on the brain and body. Available to educators, parents and students nationwide at no-cost, the initiative provides high–quality, engaging digital resources they need to initiate honest conversations with young people about the opioid epidemic.
Several weeks ago, Operation Prevention hosted its second Virtual Field Trip taking students nationwide on a tour of Huntington, a small town in West Virginia that is fighting back against the opioid epidemic. This immersive experience featured interviews with community members and underscored how substance abuse is affecting lives in local communities. The experience provided educators and students, first hand, with relevant tools and actionable ways to confront addiction in their own communities, and Operation Prevention’s online activities help elementary, middle and high school students understand how prescription drugs and heroin affect the brain and body.
Thankfully, state legislatures also understand the importance of combating opioid addiction through education. In September 2017, Maryland made drug education a required subject in public schools and additional states will no doubt soon follow. Operation Prevention will help Maryland’s educators meet the state’s mandate for anti-addiction education, and is ready to help additional states meet their unique needs as well.
Operation Prevention and education efforts are ongoing, and drug-free living forums and conversations will also kick off in 2018 in a number of cities nationwide, including: Santa Rosa, Florida; Nashville, Tennessee; and Los Angeles, California. In fact, we are proud to engage the National League of Cities, as part of the Educating Youth on the Dangers of Opioid Misuse solution session dialogue today.
A year since its launch, Operation Prevention has reached more than one million students by providing schools nationwide the no-cost curriculum they need to educate students about the consequences of this critical situation. We hope that, in addition to initiating lifesaving conversations with America’s youth about the opioid epidemic, Operation Prevention will inspire students to share the dangers of opioid addiction with their peers. And we are proud to connect communities to Operation Prevention work already underway.
Through the combination of this constantly expanding program and the joint efforts of community members and leaders nationwide, we can end this epidemic. For more information on Operation Prevention and to take a pledge to help our nation combat opioid abuse today, visit operationprevention.com.