Gov. John Kasich and a host of state and local officials visited West Carrollton Middle School on Wednesday to kick off a multi-pronged campaign to prevent drug abuse among Ohio’s young people.
Kasich, his wife, Karen, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, former Bengal great Anthony Munoz and at least a half dozen leaders of state agencies spoke during an hourlong press conference about Start Talking, a program aimed at getting people to realize that heroin and opiate addiction is a problem in every community and could be a problem in any home.
Perhaps the most eloquent speakers, though, were those whose lives had been devastated by drug addiction.
Danielle Smoot spoke of the shock and grief of losing her 16-year-old son Cole, who died three years ago when he took one prescription pill that was not his.
Smoot, of New Carlisle, said her son wasn’t the “type of kid” who would be involved in drug use.
“Cole was a great young man He was smart,” she said. “He was funny. He was engaging. He was a great friend. He always had a big smile and a funny joke to cheer up his friends. He was a great brother to Eric. He was everything that we could ever hope to ask for in this life.
“I want to tell you that there’s no such thing as ‘that type’ or ‘that kid.’ Everyone is susceptible to drug abuse.”
Her son made one bad decision, Smoot said, and it not only ended his life, it also changed the lives of many around him.
“No one should stand in the shoes that we have to walk in every single day,” Smoot said.
“I can tell you that we are not going to solve this issue by legislating, prosecuting, arresting or treating our way out of this. Because that’s not how it’s going to be done. Because we have to stop this problem before it starts. By that time it’s too late.
“The way that we’re going to do it is by coming together as a community of parents, students, friends and peers and start talking.”
That’s the primary aim of the new initiative, which has four separate programs to foster discussion, said Tracy Plouck, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Preventing young people from starting drug use is the best way to solve the addiction problem, Plouck said, and research shows that when parents or other adults have conversations with young people about the dangers of addicting drugs they can reduce the likelihood of drug use by about half.
The Start Talking campaign includes four programs:
• 5 Minutes for Life — This program brings Ohio Highway Patrol Officers and Ohio National Guard members into high schools to talk to athletes about the importance of being drug-free and serving as ambassadors to other students in their schools. So far, Kasich said, the program has reached 6,000 students in 62 high schools, and has recruited 119 student volunteers to launch campaigns in their schools.
• Building Youth Resiliency — This grant program is aimed at helping schools and non-profits in low-income areas launch and run drug prevention programs that have been proven to work. Kasich said the program would begin with $1 million in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Family funds.
• Know! – This is a free service developed by the Drug Free Action Alliance that will send out twice monthly email messages about how to talk to a teenager about substance use. Every two weeks a message tailored to parents and one to other adults, such as teachers, will be distributed through school districts and other organizations, Plouck said.
• Parents360 Rx – This is an 11-minute video developed by the Partnership at Drugfree.org that has helps adults learn about substance abuse and gives them confidence to talk to their teens about it. Plouck said the campaign is hoping to launch community group discussions “that this could happen here … in our neighborhood and in our household.”
Plouck encouraged the public to check out the program — which is being paid for with existing budgets — at http://StartTalking.Ohio.Gov
Kasich said the program is aimed at students “because we see an epidemic of tragedy and death and addiction among our young people.”
The governor thanked DeWine for his work on battling so-called pill mills, and for law enforcement in busting drug rings, and other officials for stepping up in other initiatives to curb opiate addiction.
But Kasich said he realized that enforcement wasn’t going to be enough.
“I looked at all the busts and everything else in a cabinet meeting and said ‘This is like trying to stop the flow of the ocean. You just can’t bust enough people to solve this problem,’” Kasich said. “This problem has to be solved at the beginning.”
Kasich said he realized at that time that the state needed a comprehensive program, like the one his team has put together.
“We’ve already started talking,” Kasich said. “But we’ve got to expand it and grow this initiative. We’ve got to travel around the state and promote it. And maybe at the end of the day we can – I don’t know that we’ll ever have a total victory — but maybe we can begin to be more effective in winning the war.”
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