“Equip schools to address opiate crisis” an Op-Ed by Jared in the Daily Item

(from October 1, 2015)

One of the privileges of going around the city as a candidate for the Lynn School Committee has been experiencing the passion that we have for our schools. That passion is fueled by the love parents have for their children, the dedication educators bring to their craft and the hopes of an entire city. It magnifies the inspiring joy and excitement I see in all the positive stories in our schools.

The passion is also there in the more difficult moments, though maybe harder to cope with and understand. Still fueled by love and dedication, it can also include pain and feelings of helplessness.

Our city, like many others, is facing more of those difficult moments with the rise in the use and abuse of opiates. To help deal with these moments’ intensity our community needs to come together, and that includes our schools.

We have big dreams for a bustling waterfront down the street from a thriving downtown. Those dreams will become realities that kids in school now will experience, but only if they are able to live safe and healthy lives. Schools are among the most important lines of prevention we have. Let’s train our passion for our schools on making them as effective as possible in addressing the opiates crisis.

It’s striking how much we ask of our schools, especially with all that’s happening in education today – curriculum changes, increased testing, language barriers. But educators embrace health and safety as part of their mission. We just need to give them the tools they need to carry it out. State leaders are already examining more school-based strategies, like conducting schoolwide drug use screenings. Here are some strategies that we should consider in Lynn.

First, we should launch a peer-developed health communication campaign for students. Evidence shows that health communication campaigns can be effective (witness the decline in smoking). But they are most effective when the prevention message comes from peers. Lynn Tech’s SkillsUSA program led a daylong seminar at the end of the last school year, which is a great start and something to build on.

Second, we should offer training for parents, teachers, nurses and coaches on pain management after an injury. The door to opiate abuse is often opened by the well-intentioned prescription of opiates for pain. The state has targeted prescribers to help stop opiate prescription from leading to opiate addiction. Our school district can do the same for other important influencers and caretakers of our kids: parents, teachers, nurses and coaches.

Third, a districtwide curriculum that focuses on developing students’ social-emotional skills should include decision-making and coping skills. And it should be implemented in a way that allows everyone who interacts with students to reinforce those skills.

Finally, we should ask students to lead a citywide stigma reduction campaign. When we hesitate to talk about addiction, call 911 or seek help for loved ones or ourselves, we create a void that is filled by more addiction and suffering. Stigma is something that we pass from generation to generation – which is why the newest generation has so much to offer in efforts to dismantle it. As a start, students could be asked to talk to their parents about the dangers of opiates and the resources available to help.

Coming together as a community to address the opiates crisis means remembering those we have lost, listening to those who have been affected, and sharing and trying ideas for what we can do differently.

I know many in this community are doing that already. This summer, Healthy Streets hosted its 9th annual overdose vigil on the Commons. The Commons was also the site of “Walk, Talk and Rock for Recovery” this fall, a rally and resource fair.

The Lynn Police Department added a Behavioral Health Unit this year with clinicians trained in substance abuse to change the way it confronts addiction. Last winter, Probation Officer and Lynn resident Donald Castle organized a Greater Lynn Opiate Awareness Summit at North Shore Community College. School Resource Officers teach courses for middle schoolers on gang and drug prevention and Marshall Middle School hosts the Project Yes afterschool prevention program for at-risk students.

Those of us talking and thinking about our schools need to join the members of our community already working on this. We should bring the passion in education to bear in the fight against opiate abuse.

Jared Nicholson is a candidate for the Lynn School Committee. He is an attorney at Northeast Legal Aid in Lynn.