Want to silence an assembly of 500 high school students in Pennsylvania? Play the 911 tape of a mother finding her 17-year-old son dead from a prescription overdose.

The audio was played during an anti-drug assembly to bring the reality closer to home for students on the frontlines of the new war against drugs. DARE has been replaced with gripping images and audio of parents losing their kids. Friends losing friends. Siblings burying siblings.

All horrific and completely preventable. The recording was designed as a gut-punch to students to show the consequences. Images were displayed of hundreds of students who have died from prescription overdoses.

“All these kids were around our age, said Michael Senn, an 18-year-old senior at the school Downingtown High School East, after the program. “It felt personal.”

The assembly was a presentation by Narcotics Overdose Prevention and Education (NOPE). NOPE is one of a handful of organizations being developed to combat the rise of prescription drug abuse (opiate pain medication) among students.

According to the CDC, 16,000 deaths in 2013 were attributed to opiate overdose. This was a 50 percent increase over the previous year. Laws put in place to curb obtaining the drugs have led to the rise of a new heroin epidemic.

The programs are being heralded because of the targeted nature. It isn’t the ‘don’t do drugs, kids.’ Instead, it’s avoid vicodin, oxycodone and others. This is what has happened to your friends who have taken these specific drugs.

The old programs have also seen budgetary slashes. Schools have focused on academics at the expense of drug education. ‘Just Say No’ is now openly mocked for its simplicity.

Instead of simplistic tactics, programs like NOPE aim to educate. The hour-long assemblies teach students how to recognize the symptoms of a drug overdose. Knowing how to react is infinitely more helpful in this situation than a bumper sticker slogan.

Students are taught that prescriptions drugs are only safe under the care of the doctor. No one is saying avoid everything. If you legitimately need the prescription, work with your doctor and family

In the end, it’s up to the kids. Some are hopeful it makes a change, but are cautious. I think we can take cautious at this point over the old assembly of talking points and getting out of class early.

Students are not stupid. Talking to them to develop a plan makes them invested in the outcome. If that saves even one life, it’s a success.


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