NEA’s Health Information Network Tackles Prescription Drug Abuse
By Emma Chadband
Before she turned 13, Jessica McDonald had already started abusing alcohol, marijuana, and Adderall — a prescription drug used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder. McDonald later became an addict, and racked up five DUI convictions while she was using Xanax, a prescription drug used to treat anxiety disorders, according to one Health News story. Sadly, McDonald’s story isn’t unique.
The Drug Enforcement Agency reports that 41 percent of teens believe it’s safer to abuse prescription drugs as opposed to drugs like marijuana or cocaine. And, according to the Center for Disease Control, prescription drugs, including opioids and antidepressants, are responsible for more overdose deaths than “street drugs” such as cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines.
Nora L. Howley, the manager of NEA’s Health and Information Network programs, said prescription drugs are the third most commonly abused drug by young people, behind alcohol and marijuana. Drug use can lead to addiction, mood disorders and decreases in teens’ memory, among other consequences.
These dangerous drugs are making their way into schools, and educators have been concerned that they lack the tools to prevent this growing trend. To help educators help their students understand the dangers of prescription drug use, the NEA is launching a new curriculum program called Rx for Understanding.
The program consists of five lessons, which can be tailored to any curriculum, whether it’s in a health or English class. Students learn the differences between drug use, abuse, and misuse, as well as when and how they should use prescription drugs properly.
NEA HIN partnered with Purdue Pharma L.P. to create Rx for Understanding after research showed one in four teenagers reported taking prescription drugs not prescribed to them at least once in their lives. Sixty percent of students who said they had abused prescription pain medications did so before age 15.
“Students believe it’s safer because it’s legal and easier to get,” Howley said. “It’s important that our young people understand how to use drugs properly and are prepared to refuse to use them recreationally.”
Ralph Fireoved, a fifth grade teacher from Middlebury, Ind., heard about Rx for Understanding at a National Education Association Midwest Leadership conference. He decided to participate in a pilot study, and his students were very enthusiastic about the lessons. He said the program gave them the opportunity to strengthen good behaviors in each other.
“We act like it’s so easy to say no, but of course that’s not really true,” Fireoved said.
In the program, the students role-play and find new ways to say “no” when someone offers them prescription drugs. When peers explain why to say “no,” students understand it differently than if the message comes solely from their teacher, Fireoved said.
The program was especially helpful for children who spoke English as a second language, Fireoved said, because it allowed them to work in small groups where they could more easily understand what was being said and could work on their English skills in a smaller setting.
Although Fireoved wasn’t aware of any of his students having problems with prescription drug abuse, he was concerned that they might develop them in high school where drugs are “all around them.” He’s grateful that a program like Rx for Understanding allows teachers to empower their students to come up with their own ways to say no to drugs.