DAYTON, Ohio – A new law requires Ohio schools to teach children about the dangers of prescription painkillers, a leading gateway drug to heroin abuse.
The Governor's Cabinet Opiate Action Team must recommend lessons to the state Education Department by July 1, under the bill signed into law last month by Gov. John Kasich.
Nationally, one in five high school students use painkillers without a prescription, while about half of young people who get hooked on heroin became addicted to prescription painkillers first, the Dayton Daily News reported.
The law recognizes that students run the risk of heroin abuse at ever younger ages, said Springfield city schools Superintendent David Estrop, whose district is already required to teach about illicit drugs in some fashion.
"This seems to be yet another step forward to try to make sure young people in particular understand that there are dangers," Estrop said.
Many of the law's components could be based on Start Talking, an ongoing state effort to curb adolescent drug abuse, said Philip Atkins, coordinator of the program.
The year-old Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services program provided a roadmap for the law, Atkins said. The program strives to unite students, parents and schools in promoting good decision making and healthy behaviors when it comes to pain medication, he said.
School districts are already required to teach about the nutritional value of food and the harmful effects of illicit drugs, as well as alcohol and tobacco abuse along with venereal disease education.
Currently, elementary school students also receive instruction about personal safety and assault prevention. In middle school and high school, students learn about dating violence prevention.
The state Prescription Drug Addiction and Healthcare Reform Study Committee held hearings across Ohio last summer, leading to the legislation sponsored by Rep. Denise Driehaus, a Cincinnati Democrat, and Rep. Robert Sprague, a Findlay Republican.
"Most people don't realize that prescription opioids and heroin are close cousins, and heroin use is simply a later phase of the same addiction," the lawmakers testified in support of the bill.
Some students may have already been exposed to painkillers after a sports injury or surgery, making information about the drugs provided by schools crucial to helping students avoid abuse, they testified.
Information from: Dayton Daily News.