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Extension event targets youth prescription drug abuse
Five years ago, young adults in Clinton County were dying at an alarming rate due to prescription drug abuse. It was then that community leaders, including Christy Nuetzman with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service , decided that something had to be done to curb substance abuse among local youth.
“In a span of three years, we had 22 overdose deaths, and half of those were in the young adult (18 to 39) population,” said Nuetzman, Clinton County family and consumer sciences extension agent. “Results from our KIP (Kentucky Incentives for Prevention) Survey said that usage was starting as early as the sixth grade and increased dramatically when the students entered high school. We knew we needed to do something to give them a first-hand experience and a real look at the consequences of getting involved with drugs.”
They developed Truth and Consequences: The Choice is Yours. This event is based on the concept of the 4-H reality store. Students are given a scenario and they visit with different community leaders to find out how that scenario would play out in real life. However, in this case, the scenario is related to prescription drug abuse, and the community leaders involved include school officials, judges, prosecutors, law enforcement and health care officials. All frequently deal with the effects of prescription drug abuse in their jobs.
“I’ve seen drugs devastate families,” said Kent McDaniel, sergeant with the Albany Police Department. “A lot of the keys to helping combat drug abuse is through education. If we can communicate to these children and make them understand, then maybe we can break the chain.”
“When these kids come and sit in front of me with their scenario and I tell them what’s going to happen if they get caught with drugs, their eyebrows go up because they don’t realize how serious this is,” said Sheldon Harlan, Clinton County High School principal. “Getting caught is just the first step.”
In Clinton County, event organizers target high school freshmen. They chose this age group based on the results from the KIP Survey that showed usage increased dramatically between the eighth and 10th grades and the fact that the freshman year is a transitional year for most students.
Students’ parents are also encouraged to attend and participate in the activity with their child and react as they would if this scenario was playing out in real life.
“There’s no way we could make an impact on the students unless we’re taking it from a family perspective and from a community perspective,” Nuetzman said. “Very often, it’s a learning experience for the parents too.”
Jennifer Stearns has volunteered with the program since it began. She went through the program this year with her son Austin.
“As my child has gotten older and I’m actually thinking I could be in these situations and scenarios, it makes it more real than it ever has been in the past,” she said.
Prescription drug abuse is not just a Clinton County problem; it occurs all across the state and nation. Recently, Nuetzman developed an extension publication that serves as a manual for Truth and Consequences that other agents can use to duplicate the event in their counties. Several agents observed and participated in Clinton County’s event this year. Many of them, including agents in Leslie and Owsley counties, will begin hosting events this year.
“Partnering with substance abuse coalitions is one small step we in extension can take to better target prescription and substance abuse issues across the state,” Nuetzman said.
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