Think back to your middle school health class. Your teacher is standing at the front of the room, ready to pass out workbooks for your newest discussion topic: drug and alcohol addiction. For most of us, this program was D.A.R.E, or Drug Abuse Resistance Education, the national nonprofit committed to giving “kids the skills they need to avoid involvement in drugs, gangs, and violence.”
To many of us, this program was a joke. We had to sit through it, just as we had to take drug and alcohol quizzes when we got to college freshman year. To many of us, narcotics were a joke simply because they were so unthinkable.
But if you live in Massachusetts and have heard about the exploding issue of opioid abuse, you know that this is much more serious than we thought it was at age 12 or 13.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said this summer that “an estimated 1, 256 Massachusetts residents” succumbed to opioid overdoses in 2014, exceeding the amount of deaths since 2013, The Boston Globe reported. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and his team have been working tirelessly to combat this issue, and a new solution may be at hand.
According to the Globe, the Massachusetts State Legislature will likely vote next week on a bill that would implement the “Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment” initiative in all Massachusetts public schools in an effort to combat opiate use at a young age. The program would require all public school districts to screen both 7th and 10th grade students for potential drug use.
Before you say, “that sounds extreme,” let us give you a few more details: these drug screenings won’t involve formal drug tests. Instead, each student will engage in conversation with either a school nurse or school psychologist who will determine if the child is likely to “engage in risky behavior.” The program is already in place in 10 public schools in the state.
What’s fantastic about this program is that rather than scaring young students with somewhat invasive medical testing, faculty are instead starting conversations about drug use at a young age. By promoting an understanding of addiction among students and making them aware of the facts surrounding it, we can begin to change the conversation about drug abuse to one of sickness rather than one of crime. By introducing a prevention effort such as this at such a young age, we could potentially influence an entire new generation of kids to avoid opioid usage, and in turn curb the plague of addiction.
But right now, this stigma still exists, and implementation of this program may prove to be difficult. Because parents can opt out of this program, some students won’t be screened. And while requiring the drug screening for every student seems like a valid solution to this, a mandated drug screening will only turn students off and cause them to see the screenings as a joke.
Either way, implementation seems to be the biggest issue at hand. Obviously, this conversation needs to be handled carefully, seriously and professionally. Students are vulnerable at both age 12 and age 15, and these screenings could very easily open up a can of worms for a troubled student. Realistically, though, students in the 7th grade have already been exposed to these issues, especially if their school districts require middle school health classes. It can’t hurt to broaden their understanding of the drugs that are so readily available in many of their own homes.
But while SBIRT, as it is called by the Senate, may be difficult to implement at first, it does lie at the start of a mission to build a healthier community. This program could be the start of something new. Once it is implemented to detect potential opioid use, perhaps it can be used to predict use of other drugs as well.