Medora gets out early on opioids: Drug program promotes good choices to kids

MEDORA

Drugs are an issue in a lot of places, and they are being used by people of all ages.

Roger Bane, superintendent of Medora Community School Corp., realizes that, so that’s why he thought offering an opioid prevention program at the school could help students make good decisions and avoid using drugs.

Savannah Brenneke, director of policy and research for Overdose Lifeline Inc., recently visited Jackson County schools to share information about the program and the Indianapolis-based nonprofit organization. Founded in 2014, the group is dedicated to preventing opioid deaths and reducing the stigma of addiction.

She said Medora was the only county school interested in offering the prevention program.

Since Overdose Lifeline received a grant from the Division of Mental Health and Addictions, the program comes at no cost to the schools.

Bane said school leaders recently participated in Narcan training to know how to use the device that administers naloxone, a drug used to reverse an opioid overdose. Opioids include heroin and prescription pain pills like OxyContin, Percocet, methadone and Vicodin.

“I just think we want to be a little more proactive than some others and try to help the problem instead of just closing our eyes,” Bane said of why he chose to offer the program. “If we can just get one or two not to (use drugs), it will be worth it.”

The Medora board of trustees recently approved the program, and Overdose Lifeline is working with Principal Austin Absher to determine when to start it.

The program is called PreVenture. Eighth- and ninth-graders will be screened to identify high correlation risk factors, including sensation seeking, impulsivity, anxiety sensitivity and negative thinking.

During two 90-minute sessions, students will learn coping skills to proactively deal with different issues and situations. They will be conducted by a trained professional using clinical techniques, cognitive behavior therapy and problem-solving skills.

There will be a counseling session for each of the four groups. After the intervention is complete, Overdose Lifeline will complete six- and 12-month followups, where the results and effectiveness of the program can be determined.

Brenneke said there is no mention of substance abuse in the sessions but instead a focus on developing coping skills to help curb behaviors and decision-making that can lead to such abuse.

She said the program has been very effective in Canada, where it originated, along with Australia and several European countries. It’s now being piloted in the United States.

Early trials show that personality testing can identify 90 percent of the highest risk children, targeting risky traits before they cause problems, according to a New York Times article about the program.

After Overdose Lifeline received the grant, it decided to pilot the program in three Indiana regions — southern (Jackson and Jennings counties), central (Howard and Grant counties) and northern (LaPorte, Starke and Pulaski counties).

Brenneke said those counties were chosen based on overall household income and those with a certain level of people eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Also considered were substance abuse and opioid overdose issues and overall rates in mental health quality and areas that lack adequate mental health services.

“The great thing about the program for the schools is it doesn’t require the schools to be trained in the program, and they don’t have to use any resources besides time and a classroom to work in,” she said. “We have our staff trained that will be the facilitators, and we will be coming down to provide that service to the school, so it doesn’t cost anything for them and doesn’t require any of their staff.”

Medora chose to have all 12 of its ninth-graders participate.

The second session will be one or two weeks after the first session, Brenneke said.

“It’s such a brief intervention, but it has been very effective,” she said. “That’s the reason why we liked it so much because it makes it easier for the schools to address an issue efficiently.”

Brenneke said ninth-graders are the focus of PreVenture because they are transitioning from middle school to high school and may encounter a lot more access and change in peer groups.

“It’s also a lot of stress and a lot of mental and emotional transitions during that year,” she said.

Since Medora’s freshman class is so small, the 15 eighth-graders at the school also will participate.

Brenneke said the goal is for the students to receive adequate attention for their life skills training.

“We want to see that it will be beneficial in the schools in Indiana,” she said. “As part of this, I’ll also do some research on the effectiveness in the communities and schools and state and see how the program works so hopefully, we’ll be able to expand it to be statewide.”

The grant for the pilot program allows all ninth-graders in the seven counties to participate. Brenneke, however, said the other Jackson County high schools she visited haven’t been very responsive.

She hopes Medora jumping on board will encourage others to follow suit.

“If they see another school has taken the initiative and is being proactive, they will feel a little more comfortable,” she said. “We’re trying not to force them into it, but the state is paying for them to have this opportunity, and it would be such a waste not to.”

Brenneke said Overdose Lifeline hopes to secure funding to continue the prevention program and screening at the schools.

Bane said he expects the program to be beneficial.

“We’ve been trying since last summer to come up with some type of addiction prevention program, and we decided that after talking with Overdose Lifeline that this might fit our needs a little bit better than trying to squeeze something else into health classes,” he said. “We already do prevention in health classes, but we thought this might give us some professionals to come in and help our students.”

On the Web

For information about Overdose Lifeline Inc. and the PreVenture opioid prevention program, email savannah@overdose-lifeline.org or visit overdose-lifeline.org.

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.