Heroin prevention efforts move into schools

GREENFIELD — As the boy on the projection screen described being shot and stabbed during heroin deals gone wrong, Sydney Cornwell’s eyes grew wide. 

The 14-year-old was used to adults discouraging her from doing drugs, but this boy wasn’t much older than she was, Sydney said after watching Friday’s presentation at New Palestine High School. Hearing people her age tell stories of heroin abuse made a familiar message stick a little better, she said: Heroin was something she didn’t want to try.   

Keeping in step with efforts by local law enforcement to curb heroin use in the county, school and community groups have teamed up to bring a heroin education and prevention program to local high schools. The program is presented by Indiana-based Overdose Lifeline Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to educating Hoosiers about drug addiction and lobbying support for drug programs and legislation.

The effort to educate students about the dangers of heroin is being led by Neighborhoods Against Substance Abuse, the county school safety committee and the Hancock County Prosecutor’s Office.

The goal is to teach kids about the highly addicted nature of narcotic drugs before they are tempted to try them, said Tim Retherford, executive director of NASA.

The program focuses solely on heroin and its effects. Students watch recorded interviews of Indiana teens who have developed a dependency on heroin or who have watched a friend or loved one struggle with the drug. They then join group discussions about the addictive nature of the drug and its high overdose risk.

NASA statistics show the use of narcotics is relatively low among the county’s teens; but countywide, the drug is popular among 20- to 40-year-olds, Retherford said. County leaders hope the lessons from Overdose Lifeline will keep teens on track through high school and stick with them as they move into adulthood, reversing that trend, he said.

“We don’t want to turn into a community where heroin is an epidemic, and then we’re forced to be reactionary,” Retherford said.

The 40-minute presentation is aimed at giving kids a better understanding of the effects heroin can have on their bodies, minds and futures, said Kourtnaye Sturgeon, an Overdose Lifeline volunteer who led Friday’s presentation. Hearing from people their own age, rather than adults, better drives home the message that anyone can become a heroin addict, she said.

It worked on Sydney and fellow New Palestine freshman Avery Biggs, the girls admitted. Their eyes darted between one other and the screen as they watched the presentation. A message at the end of the film telling the audience one of the young addicts died from a heroin overdose not long into the making of the film especially impacted the students, Avery said. 

“That’s when my jaw dropped,” she said.

New Palestine High School became the first high school to host the Overdose Lifeline program, with roughly 170 students hearing tales of addiction in their health classes Friday. Similar presentation are in the works at the Eastern Hancock, Greenfield-Central and Mt. Vernon high schools, which likely will take place throughout the year, Retherford said.

Overdose Lifeline was started by a central Indiana woman whose 20-year-old son died from a heroin overdose in October 2013. Since then, the organization helped pen a state law that made prescriptions of Narcan — brand name of the prescription drug naloxone, which is used reverse the effects of a prescription opioid or heroin overdose — readily available to the public.

In May, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department used a grant from Overdose Lifeline to purchase 60 prescriptions of the drug now carried by its officers and those with a handful of other area agencies.

Purchasing Narcan was the first in a series of efforts to combat the area’s heroin problem. Those energies continued with the sheriff’s department and Greenfield Police Department each bringing on a narcotics detective who will dedicate their time to drug investigations.

Prosecutor Brent Eaton said the additional work in local schools will help students better understand the destructive qualities of heroin. If the presentations are successful, teens won’t use the drug and won’t commit the criminal acts that so regularly accompany it.

“Kids may not have all the information about how dangerous this particular drug is,” Eaton said. “If they are more aware, it will hopefully make better decisions.”

Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.