The statistics are alarming — a quarter of students 12 and older have started using prescription drugs.
Accidental poisoning deaths have surpassed motor vehicle injuries in Delaware. The state ranked ninth in the country for the number of drug overdoses in 2009 (the most recent data we have available). And, of the drug overdoses in Delaware, 80 percent of them involve one or more prescription drugs. Mortality rates in which prescription drugs were implicated increased nearly fourfold between 1999 and 2009.
This is why a group of school nurses from the Red Clay School District has partnered with the Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH) to offer an education program to prevent and identify prescription drug abuse among teenagers and pre-teens.
The announcement occurred on Friday, Jan. 25 at Alexis I. du Pont High School in Greenville with the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services and the Office of the Attorney General.
The program adapts "Smart Moves/Smart Choices," a research-based program developed by the National Association of School Nurses and Janssen Pharmaceuticals for middle and high school students. The program features an extensive curriculum, lessons, and videos to use in the classroom; activities, discussions, and worksheets for the classroom teacher; and other resources. Soon the nurses and DPH will hold assemblies in their middle and high schools. At the elementary level, they will use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Up and Away Program," which reminds adults to keep prescription drugs out of children's reach.
"Since school nurses are on the front lines, we have a unique opportunity to raise awareness of the risks of prescription drug abuse and to influence our students' behaviors through education," said Megan S. Fioravanti, RN, BSN, NCSN, school nurse at A.I. du Pont High School.
She noted that except for marijuana, more teenagers abuse prescription drugs than illegal drugs.
Last summer, five nurses from the Red Clay School District were accepted into the competitive and prestigious Johnson & Johnson Fellowship program in school health leadership, held at Rutgers University. Upon their return, they helped DPH promote September's Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.
"Too many adults and youth are mired in an addiction to prescription drugs," added Dr. Karyl Rattay, DPH director.
Christina Showalter, Medicaid fraud director at the Office of the Attorney General, said that prescription drug abuse exists among all segments of society: "The statistics are all too familiar…it is a healthcare epidemic."
The school nurse team consists of: Fioravanti from A.I. du Pont High School, Sharon-Rose Gargula from Stanton Middle School, Fran Russo-Avena from Richardson Park Learning Center, Kathleen M. Bugbee from North Star Elementary School, Rebecca King from Brandywine Springs School, and administrative sponsor Tawanda Bond, assistant principal at A.I. du Pont High School.