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Preventing Youth Addiction: New Campaign Answers Ohio Need with Effective Approach

By: Kathleen Gmeiner, Project Director, Ohio Consumers for Health Coverage

Unintentional deaths from drug overdoses are skyrocketing in Ohio. The number of persons in Ohio dying unintentionally from an overdose has grown from 1 per day in 2000 to 5 per day in 2012 (see chart). While Ohio needs to expand access to treatment programs for people suffering from addiction, a new campaign from UHCAN Ohio and a host of partners calls on Ohio to start Preventing Youth Addiction.

Launched on June 18,,the new campaign seeks to expand use of a simple screening tool to identify young people age 15-22 engaged in risky substance use and help them find healthy alternatives. The tool is called “ SBIRT”—short for Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment – and provides a non-intrusive way to learn whether an individual is engaged in substance use and offers a brief intervention or, if necessary, make a referral to treatment.

Our campaign, part of a national effort funded by the Conrad Hilton Foundation, is aimed at securing widespread commitment by health professionals, schools, courts and others who interact with young people to use SBIRT in appropriate settings. The Foundation is funding four other state campaigns in Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Wisconsin.

The kickoff, at John Maloney Health Center, a community health center on Columbus’s south side, acknowledged the crisis, including the tragic deaths of a young woman in Youngstown and a woman in Upper Arlington. Several campaign partners described their organization’s reasons for involvement. These included Sarah Biehl, of Children’s Defense Fund Ohio, who emphasized CDF-Ohio’s strong commitment to disrupting the “school to prison pipeline.” “If we can screen teens for alcohol and drug use and get them the help they need before experimentation becomes a way of life, we stand a good chance of keeping them on track to a successful life,” said Biehl.

Michael Langford, Executive Director of Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program of Cincinnati, shared UMADAOP’s experience in offering alternatives to students suspended or expelled from school and noted the especially devastating impact on young persons of color. Citing statistics from the most recent Ohio Youth Behavioral Risk Factor Survey he said, “While there was a significant decrease in the percentage of students who tried marijuana for the first time before the age of 13, black students were 3.9 times more likely to report trying marijuana at an early age.”

Ohio’s commitment to SBIRT was the focus of remarks from Steve O’Neil, Ohio SBIRT Project Director at Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services Department. O’Neil is running a 5-year grant from federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to spread the use of SBIRT among Ohio adults. Other members of Preventing Youth Addiction leadership team include Voices for Ohio’s Children, Collegiate Recovery Community, Coalition for a Drug Free Greater Cincinnati and Ohio Citizen Advocates for Addiction Recovery.

Community Catalyst of Boston will gather and disseminate the lessons learned from Ohio to help improve screening and intervention nationwide.

For more information or to get involved, contact Kathleen Gmeiner, Project director, kgmeiner@uhcanohio.org or 614-456-0060 x 223.

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