When D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) America looked for a Long Island program to launch its student curriculum dealing with opioid abuse, Shelter Island was one of four active units ready to take on the challenge.
The Shelter Island Police Department and school officials joined forces to offer the first pilot program in the nation to equip students with tools to resist pressure to experiment with drugs.
“The new opioid curriculum builds on the foundations in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program that provides the knowledge and social and emotional skills young people need to make safe and responsible decisions,” according to Karen Simon, the educator for New York State D.A.R.E. Officer’s Association.
The earlier that children learn how to make responsible decisions, the more likely they will avoid being at high risk for later involvement with drug abuse, Ms. Simon told the Reporter about the new program.
The pilot program offers students guidance from kindergarten through grade 12. Shelter Island D.A.R.E. Officer Anthony Rando started with 7th graders, teaching about prescription and over-the-counter medications and providing a basic introduction to the opioid epidemic. The students will continue to learn how misuse of medications can affect their health, Officer Rando said.
Eighth grade students will learn about opioid — including heroin — addictions with a PowerPoint presentation, cycling through a number of quizzes to learn detailed information on the effects of misuse of drugs.
Students in grades nine through 12 will also learn about the relationship between prescription drug abuse, opioid drug abuse and heroin. They will present their own ideas on options to deal with the epidemic and discuss ways to keep themselves free from addictions.
Officer Rando’s approach is to draw out students about the issue. “When they’re talking, they’re learning,” he said.
Lessons are non-judgmental but focus on students having personal safety plans, Ms. Simon said. It might start with a legitimate injury for which pain medication is prescribed, but when a prescription is no longer being provided, the patient may seek all-too available drugs elsewhere or prescriptions belonging to others in their home.
There are dangers of taking prescriptions belonging to others — a family member or friend, Police Chief Jim Read said. When a doctor writes a prescription, it’s based on knowledge of the patient’s condition, needs and possible allergies, he noted, and taking medication prescribed for others can result in dangerous consequences.
Several years ago, there were more addictions to methamphetamine, Officer Rando said, than opiates. But in a five-year period starting in 2013, Chief Read said his officers have dealt with 26 cases involving opioid drugs, charged 20 people with felonies involving the drugs, and lost three people to overdoses, including one fatality this year.
For a community of only some 2,000 year-round residents, that number is formidable, Chief Read said. During summers when the population balloons to more than 10,000, many problems arise with those bringing drugs with them and potentially exposing Island students to the drug trade.
It’s why police and school officials embraced the expanded D.A.R.E. program, the chief said.
School Superintendent Christine Finn welcomed the program, explaining that she wants students to have as many tools as possible “as they navigate life.” The more they learn in the course of their schooling on the Island, the better prepared they will be for whatever their futures hold after graduation, she said.
Because of the many ways in which the Police Department reaches out to students, there’s a good relationship between them and the officers, Ms. Finn said.
Another plus to the program in school is to help students cope with the reality that those most affected by opioid abuse are adults in their 30s and 40s. Some are the parents of students or other adults they know and/or are close to, according to Ms. Simon.
Anyone can become addicted and it’s important for students and adults to know the signs and understand that what might start as a legitimate need for medication can become a serious problem, Ms. Finn said.