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Fighting the War on Opioids, Substance Abuse on School Front

Administration consolidates tools, lesson plans on one website to help educators spend time teaching rather than searching

Boy at medicine cabinet

Substance-abuse awareness and prevention have been standard in schools for decades, from the anti-drug movies of the 1970s to the familiar DARE officers in the classrooms well into the 2000s.

Now, the opioid epidemic has engendered its own practices for getting the message out to young children and teenagers, and the Christie administration has put together a collection of resources available to schools.

The collection of age-appropriate curriculum and lesson plans was announced by Gov. Chris Christie yesterday as part of his wide-ranging and well-known campaign against opioid abuse, with the education component not getting as much attention as moves to tighten prescription rules and expand treatment.

The list doesn’t really break new ground: Many of the resources posted on the state Department of Education’s website are existing programs that have been consolidated to ease access.

One example is the LEAD (Law Enforcement Against Drugs) campaign, “Too Good for Drugs,” a police-based program that replaced DARE in New Jersey in 2015. Other cited programs have come out of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.

“By providing schools with these opioid curriculum resources and expanding the educational opportunities for students battling substance abuse,” said state Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington, “New Jersey children will know more about the health risks associated with opioid use, persevere through recovery, and be empowered to seek help for themselves or others.”

The resources are not limited to opioid abuse. The programs for younger grades barely mention opiates but focus more on decision-making skills. In the middle grades, it’s as much about the alcohol as narcotics.

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It is more explicit in the high school programs, such as a lesson plan devised in conjunction with Scholastic that centers on a student article explaining the opioid epidemic, with charts and even a list of often-used vocabulary.

“We continue to make key investments in prevention efforts in order to help save innocent young lives from the disease of addiction before it starts,” said Christie in making the announcement.

The resources were announced in conjunction with new funding for three school programs across the state that focus specifically on students in recovery, two of them set-aside facilities and a third one under consideration.

The two schools each receiving $1.3 million are the Raymond Lesniak ESH Recovery High School in Union County and KEYS Academy in Matawan-Aberdeen in Monmouth County. In addition, the Middle Township schools in Cape May County will receive $100,000 to conduct a needs assessment for such a program.

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