COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s in their schools, their communities, and in many cases, their homes. But for many young people, the answer of what to do about Ohio’s opioid crisis isn’t clear.
“A lot of young people are concerned about the issue but aren’t sure what steps they can take to be part of the solution or to make sure they don’t become part of the problem,” said Theresa Ferrari, a 4-H youth development specialist with Ohio State University Extension. “Most teens know the issue is going on: They know if kids in their schools are doing drugs.”
Teens often wonder: “Who do I talk to about opioids? How do I bring the conversation up? How do I prevent myself and others around me from using opioids?”
Those are just some of the questions young people have regarding the opioid crisis, Ferrari said.
Enter Hope for Ohio: Teen Forum on the Opioid Crisis. It will be an opportunity to listen to teens and hear their concerns and thoughts about the opioid epidemic. The forum is Dec. 2 from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. at The Ohio State University’s Nationwide and Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center, 2201 Fred Taylor Drive, on the Columbus campus.
The event is being held by Ohio 4-H, the youth development program of OSU Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at Ohio State. Other partners convening the teen forum include Ohio Farm Bureau, Ohio FFA and Prevention Action Alliance, a Columbus-based certified prevention agency.
The forum is designed to educate and prepare both teens and adults to take action against drug abuse in their communities, Ferrari said. It’s an important step to speak to teens about an issue that, for many, is life-threatening, she said.
“Typically when these opioid forums and discussions have been held, they don’t involve talking directly to teens, so this is a great opportunity for them,” Ferrari said. “Teaching teens to take a leadership role in helping to prevent themselves and their peers from abusing opioids fits into what we do every day with 4-H: preparing young people to be leaders and to understand what is going on in their communities.
“But you have to arm them with research-based knowledge so they know the facts.”
The facts are alarming.
Ohio now leads the nation in opioid-related overdose deaths with a record 4,050 drug overdose deaths reported in 2016, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Opioid drugs, including prescription painkillers and heroin, killed more than 33,000 people nationwide in 2015, more than any year on record, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were 3,050 overdose deaths in Ohio in 2015, with 58.2 percent of the deaths blamed on the use of fentanyl and its derivatives, an opioid 50 times stronger than heroin, officials said.
And it’s not just adults.
Some 122,000 teens under age 17 and 427,000 adolescents between 18 and 25 had a pain reliever use disorder in 2015, according to a study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. And one in eight U.S. high school seniors in 2013 reported using opioids for nonmedical reasons, according to a 2015 study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
“Many young people have already been impacted by the opioid crisis,” said Carol Smathers, field specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness for OSU Extension, who is also working to organize the 4-H opioid forum.
“They see it. They know what’s going on, whether it be a family member, a friend, a neighbor,” she said. “It has touched so many people, that young people aren’t that far removed from it.”
Ohio law now requires K-12 schools to provide drug education, to teach students about the harmful effects of and legal restrictions against the use of drugs of abuse, alcoholic beverages and tobacco, Smathers said.
“So we’re excited to have this kind of discussion that engages youths on their level,” she said. “A big part in reversing this epidemic is to give kids a platform to discuss the realities of the issue, to treat it as a disease and to teach compassion for people who have it.
“They can reach out and be a support to friends who are struggling and to get the word out about how to prevent it in their communities.”
The teen opioid forum will include:
- A presentation from Tyler’s Light, a nonprofit that provides information and resources to help people choose a drug-free life.
- A town hall-style discussion on the opioid epidemic with Jennifer Lloyd, director of drug abuse outreach initiatives with the office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, and Scott Duff, an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.
- A breakout session led by David Kohout of Talk is Cheap Inc., a nonprofit that focuses on building character, establishing confidence and instilling hope, on how to be active in the community around opioid abuse prevention.
- The pHARMING Effects: How abuse of prescription drugs affects youths and how to prevent prescription drug misuse and abuse. The talk will include the difference between prescription drug use and abuse, key harmful effects of prescription drug abuse, and strategies to prevent prescription drug abuse.
The forum will also have a session designed for adults:
- Prevention Action Alliance — Why Scare Tactics Don’t Work: A look at why scare tactics are ineffective and potentially harmful.