COLUMBUS, Ohio – The traveling display created by 4-H members may seem innocuous enough – a simple pedestal sink with a mirrored medicine cabinet mounted above, similar to what could be seen in bathrooms in almost any home in the region.
But the question accompanying the display – “What’s in your medicine cabinet?” – may not be as easy for some Ohioans to answer.
Ohio now leads the nation in opioid-related overdose deaths with a record 4,050 drug overdose deaths reported in 2016, a 33 percent increase from 2015, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Experts say misuse of prescription opioids is one of the strongest risk factors for starting heroin use, with three out of four new heroin user reporting abusing prescription opioids.
The 4-H members who created the medicine cabinet display want to get the word out about prescription misuse to try to prevent the next potential user from adding to Ohio’s growing opioid crisis. The cabinet includes prescription bottles labeled with drug abuse facts and information as part of their work as Ohio 4-H Health Heroes.
The goal, said 15-year-old Molly Rubio, a 4-H member from Greene County who works with the medicine cabinet display, is to attract attention about the issue and engage the public in discussions on how to prevent opioid abuse.
“The message is clear – look in the mirror – the face of opioid addiction staring back at you could be yours,” Rubio said. “Open the medicine cabinet and those prescription pain pills could be your entry to addiction.”
Rubio is among a group of high school and college students who make up the Ohio 4-H Health Heroes. Ohio 4-H is the youth development program of Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University.
The medicine cabinet display is a project of the Ohio 4-H and was funded through a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the National 4-H Council, said Theresa Ferrari, a 4-H youth development specialist with OSU Extension.
The display is now being used by 4-H members at fairs and other events around the state as a means of encouraging talk among young people about the opioid crisis, she said.
“There are so many misconceptions about who uses opioids,” Ferrari said. “This mirrored medicine cabinet display is one way to illustrate that it’s not who you think it is, it could be you.
“Our goal is to raise awareness about the opioid crisis in Ohio and to teach people how to properly dispose of prescription opioid medications, and inform people about resources in the community.”
The need for such education and prevention is significant.
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.
Madelyn Smith, a 4-H student in the 9th grade from Blacklick, Ohio, said the interactive medicine cabinet display has been a really effective way for her and other 4-H members to talk to teens across the state.
“While people generally seem to be aware about the opioid issue, they are shocked when they hear the numbers of how many people the issue actually affects and by how many people are dying,” Smith said. “This is something that we need to talk about, especially to our peers, who seem to respond better when they hear this kind of information from people their own age.”
In addition to the medicine cabinet, the display includes a set of trivia-styled questions to quiz participants on their knowledge of opioid facts. The questions are aimed at teens and adults, while a second set of questions are aimed at younger people.
For example, questions aimed at older youth and adults include: “Ohio House Bill 4 permits the dispensing of what overdose reversal drug without a prescription by a pharmacist?” and, “True of False: Prescription opioids are far safer than illicit drugs?”
Questions for the younger set include those such as: “Good or bad choice: Cindy takes more medicine than instructed,” and “John discovers an object that may be medicine or candy. He decides to immediately give it to an adult.”
The display is even more effective because 4-H members who are trained to advocate about medication safety and drug abuse prevention staff it, Ferrari said.
“Teens listen to each other better than they listen to adults,” she said. “We aren’t health providers so we don’t offer treatment.
“Rather we focus on prevention and advocacy. This is 4-H’s niche – we work to educate teens to be leaders and help them learn how to make a difference.”
The medicine cabinet will next be on display at the Farm Science Review, Sept. 19-21, at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center near London, Ohio. The annual trade show is sponsored by CFAES, and offers visitors some 180 educational presentations and opportunities presented by educators, specialists and faculty from OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, which are the outreach and research arms, respectively, of the college.
Tickets to the Review are $7 online, at OSU Extension county offices and participating agribusinesses, and $10 at the gate. Children 5 and under are free. Details on hours, buying tickets online and more are on the Review’s website at fsr.osu.edu.
More information on the medicine cabinet display can be found at ohio4h.org/4-HMedicineCabinet.