Prevention in Ohio: Examining Ohio’s Efforts to Curb the State’s Drug Epidemic through Prevention Education

In August, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office announced[1] the formation of a study committee to examine drug use prevention education in Ohio schools.

The committee consists of members from both the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate in addition to numerous educators, members of the law enforcement community, state agencies, and organizations that focus on drug abuse prevention throughout the state.

The Ohio Joint Study Committee on Drug Use Prevention Education has met three times, in Akron, Columbus and Chillicothe. Additional meetings are planned in Dayton on Tuesday, Oct. 25; and in Celina on Wednesday, Nov. 2.  Key takeaways from these three meetings include:

  • There is strong agreement among committee members and presenters on the need for evidence-based prevention programs, but a lack of consensus on what outcomes should be expected from these programs.
  • Each meeting featured input from local high school students, and it has been suggested multiple times that young people should be represented as regular members of the committee.
  • Several committee members have expressed strong support for the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program, largely driven by the belief that communities need to develop more positive relationships with local law enforcement.
  • Teachers have little or no time to incorporate prevention into their lesson plans because of the pressure they face to make sure their students pass state evaluation standards. Likewise, schools are often reluctant to make time to bring in external agencies to provide programming.
  • Although school health classes could be an effective medium for communicating messages to students about the health risks of drugs and alcohol, health class is often only required at a single grade level and many students are now taking it online, making it difficult for educators to authentically connect with students.
  • Small group settings tend to be more effective than large groups for communicating prevention messages to students.
  • Peer prevention strategies such as the Ohio Teen Institute and Drug Free Clubs of America are beginning to gain traction across the state, though more work needs to be done to document the successes of these programs in reducing teen substance abuse.
  • There is a strong perceived need for more prevention specialists in schools to conduct screenings to catch risky substance use and abuse early, as well as more guidance counselors in elementary schools to connect with children whose families are affected by substance abuse.

The committee has also met multiple times by phone to examine current prevention education programs that are used in Ohio schools, such as Generation Rx administered by The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy; DARE, with 156 Ohio law enforcement agencies and 203 active DARE officers currently teaching the newly redesigned “keepin’ it REAL” program in schools; and the PAX Good Behavior Game, a trauma-informed, universal prevention intervention program.

The formation of this committee encourages elevated discussion statewide of what can be done to better prevent the cycle of drug addiction from continuing in Ohio.  At The Center for Community Solutions, we have taken this opportunity to begin examining prevention programs throughout the state, as highlighted in local ADAMHS board community health plans submitted to the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

In general, there is a lack of consistency in programs reported by Ohio’s 51 behavioral health authorities in their community plans, creating a patchwork of programs that are being utilized across the state.  Though some trends have emerged as programs such as PAX, StartTalking!, DARE, LifeSkills and others have gained traction, inconsistency remains in differentiating true drug prevention education and classroom management techniques emphasizing good decision-making skills that many of these programs highlight. A significant portion of counties did not report any form of prevention education programming, with the most frequently cited reason being a lack of available funding. Communities are likely engaged with other prevention activities that are not reported in these community plans, but this offers a snapshot into prevention programming around the state.

Community Solutions will continue to track the work of the Joint Study Committee as it visits other areas of Ohio and produces a report.

Additional resources from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are available here.

[1] Ohio Attorney General “Committee Formed to Study Drug Use Prevention Education in Ohio Schools”