A Community Conversation on the Heroin Epidemic

DSworthlogoAs a parent raising my children in Worthington there are many things that cause me concern.  I think that’s the nature of raising kids in society today and I feel really lucky that our family is connected to an amazing community and we have access to significant resources.  In 2016, one of the things that gives me the most fear is Heroin.

In the United States we have an epidemic of Opiate addiction and Heroin.  It’s affecting communities across the country and unfortunately, Worthington is no different.  Last fall 60 Minutes ran a story entitled “Heroin in the Heartland.”  As part of this story, a graduate from Worthington Kilbourne High School was interviewed.    The premise of the CBS story is that heroin is cheap, easy to get, and in the words of CBS, “used by the kids next door.”

Sadly, there is nothing in this news story that is surprising to many of us.  For several years now we have worked with families whose children have become addicted to prescription pain medication and/or heroin.  We’ve lost several Worthington graduates to this epidemic.  What we’ve learned through working with these families is that addiction can happen to anyone.  The families affected by this addiction are “good” families who have “good” kids.  Unfortunately, once addiction begins, it is very, very difficult to overcome.

As a school district we have worked to be proactive in our approach to educating students and families about opiate abuse. We have partnered with organizations such as “Drug Safe Worthington” to bring in speakers for our students and families. We’ve hosted “Tyler’s Light” and “Operation Street Smart” multiple times in order to better educate our community.  Several years ago we partnered with the Worthington Police so they could  implement a prescription drug drop box so residents could easily dispose of pain medication (this is critical as most opiate addiction begins as prescription pain medication abuse found in family medicine cabinets before escalating to heroin).

On August 1st we will be partnering with the City of Worthington, Drug Safe Worthington, Senator Rob Portman, Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office to participate in a community conversation on the Heroin epidemic.  The event will be hosted by the McConnell Arts Center in Worthington and is scheduled to begin at 5:30 P.M.  Those who attend will learn about the disease of addiction, warning signs and preventive measures as well as have an opportunity to converse with experts who will answer questions and connect families with resources.

By partnering together as a community we will make Worthington a safer place for all of our children.  Please consider attending this event.  You can RSVP to Stephen White at Stephen_White@portman.senate.gov

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent



Ohio’s Start Talking! Youth Drug Prevention Initiative


Last week we wrote about the book Dreamland which looks at America’s Opiate addiction.  This week we wanted to pass on some information from the Ohio Start Talking campaign which I hope is a helpful resource for Worthington families.  – Trent Bowers, Superintendent

“Summer break is upon us, and for tweens and teens this means no homework, plenty of free time and less supervision. While a majority of youth will find healthy ways to keep busy, some, unfortunately, will use their unsupervised freedom to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Now that your kids are no longer in school, how can you be sure that they will stay out of trouble this summer? How do you know that they won’t get involved with drugs? It’s time to Start Talking!

Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich and First Lady Karen W. Kasich launched the Start Talking! youth drug prevention initiative to give parents, guardians, educators and community leaders the tools to start the conversation with youth about the importance of living healthy, drug-free lives. Whether it’s at the swimming pool, on the baseball diamond, around a campfire or at a family picnic, Start Talking! gives adults research-based tools and resources to help prevent substance abuse before it starts.

Start Talking! is rooted in national research that shows teens whose parents talk to them about the dangers of drugs are up to 50 percent less likely to use than children who do not have these critical conversations with a trusted adult.

The initiative features three main components:

1) Know! provides free, twice monthly emails that offer Parent Tips to families to help them talk about the risks and consequences of drug abuse.

2) Parents 360Rx features a free, downloadable toolkit to help communities come together to support local prevention efforts. The toolkit includes a video, discussion guide, handouts and other resources to decrease the risk of children taking illegal drugs or abusing prescription medicines.

3) 5 Minutes for Life is a program led by the Ohio Highway Patrol, the Ohio National Guard and local law enforcement in partnership with high schools and the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA). Troopers, law enforcement officers and Guard members talk to student athletes to encourage them to become ambassadors who lead peer-to-peer conversations that promote healthy lifestyles.

Here are more ways you can encourage your kids to make smart, healthy decisions this summer:

  1. Take advantage of life’s teachable moments to reinforce the drug-free message.
  2. Don’t let them go to unsupervised parties
  3. Maintain an open channel of communication
  4. Keep unsupervised time to a minimum
  5. Always know who they’re with and what they’re doing
  6. Acknowledge and reward positive behaviors
  7. Encourage them get involved in summer activities
  8. Help them find a job
  9. Set a good example

We all can play a role in preventing youth drug use. Don’t underestimate the effect that the things that you say and do have on shaping your children’s opinions and attitudes towards life. Be upbeat and driven, be compassionate and caring, be a role model, be a talker and a listener.

Visit www.StartTalking.ohio.gov to get started. Follow Start Talking! on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for more details as they become available.  Have a safe, healthy summer!”

by Sarah Smith, Director

Ohio’s Start Talking! Youth Drug Prevention Initiative



DreamlandAs a 43 year old man working in public education I end up in many conversations that begin with “kids today….”  Undoubtedly the person I am talking with is describing how the current generation of teenagers is somehow not as well behaved as “our” generation was.  What’s interesting is that our internal survey data does not show that.  Actually our internal survey data shows that students today participate in less risky behaviors than students of previous generations did.  They’re more discerning and show better judgment.  Certainly some things have changed over the past 20 years.  For one, our recent survey data shows that our students believe that marijuana use is more acceptable and less risky than is cigarette usage.  This surprised me but it probably shouldn’t have as national norms have certainly shifted here.  And then there is heroin.  Our community, like every community in Ohio, has been hit by heroin.  Often I’m asked the question, “How did we get to this point?  What would make a teenager try heroin?”  These are legitimate questions and if you really want to know the answers you need to read Dreamland by Sam Quinones.

I just finished reading Dreamland and was fascinated from the first page until the last.  Here’s what the Christian Science Monitor had to say about the book:

“At least 300,000 Americans use heroin, according to the latest statistics. From 2010 to 2013, the number of deaths from overdoses tripled from 3,036 to 8,257. Not coincidentally, since 1999 the number of prescription painkillers prescribed and sold in the United States has quadrupled, although incidents of chronic pain have not. Heroin use thrives on a disturbing symbiosis with painkiller addiction: 3 out of 4 new heroin users have reported they had previously abused prescription painkillers.  

And these twin addictions have spread in places one wouldn’t expect: Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee. The face of opiate addiction is no longer the inner-city homeless or actors in Greenwich Village. It’s suburban white kids in Columbus, soccer moms in Nashville, rural men in West Virginia.

For decades US pharmaceutical companies had been trying to create a non-addictive drug that could effectively control chronic pain. The 1995 FDA approval of Oxycontin, a drug almost chemically identical to heroin, occurred when insurance companies were increasingly reluctant to cover long-term treatment of chronic pain via effective but expensive techniques such as physical therapy and counseling. Purdue Pharma, which owned the patent to Oxycontin, reassured everyone it was non-addictive. When the company sales representatives cited non-existent studies demonstrating that Oxycontin could be used safely to treat chronic pain, doctors were all too willing to listen. Soon patients were hooked. People who didn’t suffer chronic pain but had heard about Oxycontin’s effects were eager to try it. And retirees who could get prescriptions began selling the pills to supplement their retirement income. Scams for getting and selling the drug multiplied.

Then the Xalisco Boys came to town. One of the finest narrative and journalistic accomplishments in this book is Quinones’s portrait of this drug-dealing network whose members are both business paragons and criminal geniuses. They all come from a poppy-growing region of Northwest Mexico and sell black tar heroin, which is cheap, potent, and easy to make. Their dealers are paid a salary, so they have no incentive to dilute their product to maximize sales. Since violence almost always draws the attention of cops, the dealers seldom carry guns.  And since police and the press like big drug busts, large quantities of heroin in one location or with one dealer are rare. And they have a customer service ethos that matches Apple’s or Trader Joe’s, along with a delivery policy similar in spirit to “Domino’s 30 minutes or less:” Did a customer feel overcharged? Was the driver late? You’ll get free extra heroin next time. Was a driver unfriendly? Expect an apologetic phone call from his boss.

The Xalisco Boys also multiplied their return on investment in superior product and customer service by seeking out territories where there were no competitors. They avoided the American Southwest and the biggest cities, which were overflowing with drug dealers. The untapped markets were in places like the dying industrial Midwest, where members of families deep in second-generation unemployment were desperate for something that would make them feel like (in the words of one drug user) “king of the world.” They had already discovered Oxycontin and doctors who would write a prescription without asking questions. And if that doctor got caught, the Xalisco Boys were ready to step in with a product that gave the same high. And no more waiting in line at the pharmacy: The Xalisco Boys delivered.”

This is the story of how opiate addiction spread and it’s something we all should read.  Please pass the word.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent

Lessons I Learned from Nick

treesI spent last week hiking 40 miles or so of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  Because we have zero experience and were hoping not to get eaten by a bear we worked with Wildland Trekking who provided us a guide and a group to hike with.  (You can read more about our trip on my Exponential Impact blog.) For four days Nick Weaver helped us navigate our trails and in the process I learned a number of things from this 24 year old.

As a backcountry guide Nick’s job is immense.  It’s multifaceted and requires a significant amount of competence as well as skill in working with people.  Over the course of our trip we forded many different streams.  Some you could rock hop, others had old log bridges, and several needed to be crossed with rushing water up to our knees or thighs.  Since we were deep in the backcountry any fall on a slippery rock could make it difficult to get the needed help.  On every single crossing Nick reminded us that we were not finished until we were on dry land.  It was easy to focus early during the water crossing but the greatest danger was often getting careless as we neared the end.  Nick’s words reminded me that seeing a project to completion is true success.  It’s easy to focus early on, but getting safely across means paying attention to detail all the way through.

In addition I was often reminded by Nick that slow and steady was the way to go.  I wanted to accomplish our daily mileage and was tempted to power up hills and rush down the other side.  Nick reminded me that the trip was much more of a marathon than a sprint and taking care of my body today would pay off on the trail the next day.  He also reminded me to stop often and recognize the views, the waterfalls, the amazing array of trees, and wildlife.

Nick showed me that if you speak with passion people will listen.  Throughout our trip Nick pointed out the different types of trees, what was old bear poop and what was fresh bear poop.  He explained the history of the area and how the Smoky Mountain National Park was formed.  When Nick talked about the history I was really interested.  When he talked about the trees I could have cared less.  But, Nick was so excited about each tree that his excitement was contagious.  I couldn’t help but pay attention and by the end of the trip I was pointing out trees myself.  Nick’s passion for the area and all that it entails reminded me of our great teachers.  No matter what they teach their passion makes all the difference.

Finally, talking with Nick showed me yet again that preparing our students for their future is critical.  In talking with Nick he stated that most in his generation just can’t imagine working for one company for 25 or 30 years.  They’re entrepreneurial and Nick himself is working to secure a patent for an idea related to outdoor equipment.  We have to prepare our students to think critically, to be adaptable and collaborative.  They’ll need to navigate a work world that is much more project driven and will be less and less corporate.  Those who produce will reap the rewards but there will be very few jobs where just putting the time in will provide income.  Nick will do well in this world but it’s our job as a school district to help all of our students learn and grow the skills needed for the future. (Check out Tony Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills.)

I spent last week in the woods but along the way I learned a lot from a 24 year old.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent