(Posted Aug. 31, 2021)
Today marks the state’s first annual Ohio Overdose Awareness Day, which Governor Mike DeWine signed into law in January this year. The legislation is intended to help raise awareness of and memorialize lives lost to the opioid epidemic.
For Mental Health Recovery Board of Clark, Greene & Madison Counties (MHRB), the day represents more than the region’s ongoing battle with addiction and substance use. It invites community members to imagine an end to the opioid epidemic. With that hope at the forefront, MHRB is putting a renewed emphasis on substance use prevention.
According to the National Safety Council, unintentional drug overdose is one of the leading causes of injury death in Ohio, surpassing motor vehicle crashes. As of June 1, 2021, there were 4,579 unintentional drug overdose deaths reported for the months of January through November in 2020. This is a 33 percent increase over 2018 and a 24 percent increase over 2019. Provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control notes that more than 93,000 overdoses have been reported in 2020, 75 percent of them attributed to opioids.
“Substance use disorder (SUD) or addiction can happen to anyone regardless of race, age, gender, or circumstance. Amid these serious numbers, it’s important to remember that SUD is a complicated medical disease that affects the brain and changes behavior. Like any other medical condition, prevention is as important as treatment if we are going to reach the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Dr. Greta Mayer, CEO of MHRB.
“We know that people often turn to substance use to cope with difficult emotions or trauma. With the ongoing pandemic and traumatic recent events, it’s reasonable for a large part of our community to feel in need of support. That’s why much of our work to address overdoses is based in prevention of substance use altogether, through building resiliency and healthy mental health practices.”
Much of the groundwork for preventing substance use begins upstream, with teaching children to understand and identify their feelings early on.
“Programs like D.A.R.E. often come to mind when we talk about drug prevention in schools, but it’s not the only way that we can help build stronger, healthier children,” said Ashley Mack, assistant director of prevention at MHRB. “Through socio-emotional learning, children learn to identify what they’re feeling so they can activate the right tools to cope.”
This year, MHRB helped develop prevention programming in Clark, Greene and Madison county schools by distributing K-12 Prevention Education Initiative funding provided through the Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) and the Ohio Department of Education (ODE).
In Madison County, schools used K-12 funding to implement Panorama Well-Being Surveys, an evidence-based screening tool that tracks wellness and mental health concerns in students, school staff and parents. Using the resulting data, the tool provides teachers with tools and interventions to address areas where students may need additional support.
In Greene County, K-12 funding allowed Wright State University to extend its Whole Child Project to two additional school districts. The Whole Child Project dovetails with the Ohio Department of Education’s strategic plan aimed at educating “the whole child” beyond reading and math. MHRB and Greene Education Service Center partnered to contribute prevention resources and expertise to schools in the program.
In Clark County, K-12 Prevention Education funding distributed by MHRB helped support Bringing Awareness to Students (BATS), a youth-led organization using data-driven strategies to make a positive difference. The organization was founded last year by a group of Springfield High School students who were participating in Botvin Life Skills Training (LST), a substance use prevention program proven to reduce the risks of alcohol, tobacco, drug use, and violence by targeting the major social and psychological factors that promote the initiation of substance use and other risky behaviors.
Parents can also help teach and reinforce socio-emotional learning at home, said Mack. In addition to taking advantage of free mental health training courses offered through MHRB, such as Mental Health First Aid (Youth and Adults), parents can use free tools like the PAX Good Behavior Game to help manage children’s stress-related responses at home.
“Overdoses and opiate misuse impact our entire community, and in the same way, prevention is a community effort,” said Mack. “By taking these small steps in schools and at home, we can create a future where Overdose Awareness Days are no longer needed.”
For more information about mental health and substance use resources in Clark, Greene and Madison counties, please visit the MHRB website at www.mhrb.org.