By Rebecca Rakoczy
COVINGTON, Ga.—If you want to stop opioid abuse, you must first talk about it. That’s the message a group of Georgia State University Perimeter College students and Newton High School students want to communicate.
Opioids are synthetic or partially synthetic manufactured drugs that mimic the properties of opiates. In 2018, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported 1,043 deaths from opioids, including fentanyl and heroin.
“If you can’t talk about it, you can’t fix it,” said Perimeter student Corinne Hanson, a criminal justice student who is one of 10 Perimeter students working with 10 Newton High School students to encourage communication as a step to stemming opioid abuse in Newton County.
The students have created #NOpioids, a campaign to educate high schoolers on the dangers of opioid abuse and to make them more comfortable discussing the issue. The campaign is supported by $117,500 from a statewide initiative called College-Adopt-A-School, which is funded through a grant from the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, the opioid authority in Georgia.
“Our goal is to educate the students, not only at Newton High School but in all Newton County high schools, about the opiate epidemic,” Hanson said.
As part of the grant, Hanson and other Georgia State Newton Campus students are mentoring the high school students to develop drug awareness programs. Dr. Tami Thomas, assistant professor of criminal justice at the Newton Campus, and Mary Bethel Davison, assistant professor of anatomy and physiology, are guiding the college students leading the effort.
To prepare for the project, the college students underwent training and sent a questionnaire to several high schools in Newton County to collect information about opioid use. The data showed high school students who said they had used opioids had at least one parent who was unemployed, absent from their life and/or didn’t go to college.
“We were looking at a lot of factors that affect opioid abuse, including academic competency, poverty, divorce, rejection,” said Lavender Harris, another Perimeter student working with the high school group.
A separate questionnaire is being sent out at Newton High School to assess student attitudes about opioid use.
The college students also obtained county and statewide data from the Georgia Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers showed a 104 percent increase in deaths from opioid overdoses in Georgia from 2010-17. In Newton County, 16 people died from opioid overdoses in 2017.
“I know 16 doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s 16 young adults just in our county, and that’s 16 too many,” said Caitlyn McGowan, another of the college students.
Nationwide, more than 47,000 people died in 2017 from opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
During the spring semester mentoring sessions, the Newton High School students also have shared personal stories about opioid abuse involving people they know. They will be incorporating a version of these stories into a skit for their kickoff event for Newton High School students in late March. They’ll also put up posters and give out buttons with the #NOpioids message.
“Right now, most students don’t use opioids,” said Harris. “We want students to know they are in the majority — and how to keep it that way.”