- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

BOW, N.H. (AP) - In the midst of the state’s opioid crisis, one Bow High School health teacher decided to team up with a local pharmacy professor to teach students exactly what drugs do.

The one-day course is part of the high school’s sophomore health class curriculum. Rather than a blanket “Say no to drugs” statement, the course is designed to educate teens on how prescription and illicit drugs work in the body and how addiction can chemically alter a person’s brain.

“We’re trying to help them understand the why: Why is someone getting addicted and what’s going on in their body?” said Cheryl Abel, an associate professor of pharmacy practice at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

Abel, a Bow resident with young children, said she and colleague Amanda Morrill developed the course after doing similar education with high school students around electronic cigarettes.

They had a willing partner in Bow High School health teacher Ben Forbes, who thought it was necessary to educate his students about the state’s opioid crisis.

“It’s part of my job to make sure we’re staying current with what’s happening in our state, to make sure the kids know what’s going on around them,” Forbes said. “Right now, New Hampshire is in crisis.”

Like many other communities in the state, Bow is far from immune.

“There are many students here that have been impacted in one way or another, whether it’s family members or people they’ve known,” he said. “It’s definitely here in terms of the impact.”

Drug deaths have taken a huge toll on the state- 439 people died from drug overdoses in 2015. The state medical examiner’s office is still counting 2016 deaths but estimates that the number will reach about 488.

Research shows New Hampshire’s young adults use prescription painkillers nonmedically and illicit drugs at higher rates than both the averages for New England and the United States; 10.5 percent reported using prescription painkillers nonmedically and another 10 percent reported using illicit drugs, not including marijuana.

Looking for ways to help stem the tide, Abel said she thought it best to start as young as possible with prevention and education.

“I definitely saw the need,” Abel said. “If we educate them at this point, we could be potentially helping. It’s kind of that ‘knowledge is power’ kind of thing.”

The presentation she and colleagues put together explains why certain drugs can be addictive and what the effects of addiction are. The presentation also covers commonly abused prescription medications, explaining what they are and what happens if a patient starts misusing or abusing them.

The presentation that Abel and her students put together has changed a bit over the past two years as they hone their message. This year, they were especially focused on teaching students about the difference between responsible use, misuse and abuse of prescription drugs.

“The trick for us has been to make it so that the people who are on meds aren’t afraid of them,” said pharmacy intern Thomas Beraha, a Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences student and pharmacy intern who teaches the class with Abel. “They’re really helpful for the people who do need them.”

Beraha, Abel and Forbes said they field a wide range of questions from students, including ones about how drugs work, how they are absorbed by the body and how addiction can change a person’s brain chemistry.

“They really have a lot more knowledge than we give them credit for,” Abel said.

Forbes added that he has gotten good feedback from students, who he said appreciate getting information about how drugs can interact in their bodies, rather than being told not to do drugs without any explanation.

“It’s not trying to scare kids into not using drugs,” Forbes said. “They’re well-educated and they’re intelligent.”

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Information from: Concord Monitor, https://www.concordmonitor.com

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