With fentanyl fears rising in schools nationwide, leading organizations team up to raise awareness of prescription drug safety

New digital curriculum to guide teachers and educate youth about dangers of misusing prescription medication

Prescription Drug Safety: Know the truth, a free digital school curriculum released in September 2023, is aiming to educate youth about the dangers associated with misusing prescription drug medications, including counterfeit drugs containing fentanyl. The course from the nationally recognized, evidence-based youth tobacco and opioid prevention truth® campaign and EVERFI® from Blackbaud®, the leader in powering social impact through education, aims to equip students with essential knowledge to protect themselves and others from the risks associated with both prescription drug misuse and fentanyl.

Overdose deaths by counterfeit pills more than doubled from 2019 to 2021, and over half of the people who died were age 35 or younger, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, was involved in 84% of the more than 2,200 cases of reported adolescent drug overdose deaths that occurred during that same time span. Young Americans are especially vulnerable to misunderstanding the risks associated with opioid misuse, addiction, and the dangerous spiral down from prescription to illicit use. Schools play an important role in reaching students with the facts they need to make informed choices, and middle and high school educators are increasingly focused on facing the growing crisis.

“With fentanyl-related deaths rising at an alarming rate amongst teens, proper education to raise awareness about the prevalence of counterfeit fentanyl pills, the potential for accidental overdose, and the importance of avoiding experimentation with illicit substances altogether is critical,” said Ray Martinez, President and co-founder of EVERFI. “It has never been more urgent or important that we provide resources to students around this topic so we can gain the upper hand in fighting the opioid crisis.”

Course expected to reach 250,000 students nationwide this school year

Prescription Drug Safety: Know the truth is an expansion of the free digital course that has already reached more than one million learners nationwide since launching in 2017. Two new lessons address the proliferation of counterfeit pills and drug trafficking on social media platforms, guiding students on how to keep themselves safe in such situations and how to report social media drug trafficking. Through real-world scenarios delivered in truth’s authentic peer-to-peer voice, students can better understand the growing youth fentanyl crisis and how to support others in situations involving prescription drug misuse and overdose. The curriculum is expected to reach 250,000 middle and high school students nationwide during the 2023-24 school year.

The refreshed course also includes updates to the program’s look and feel, provides current research into prescription drug misuse, and complies with the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. In consultation with educators, these updates will improve course content and provide students with the tools needed to make informed decisions, seek help for themselves or a peer, and understand the potential consequences of prescription drug misuse.

“Our organization brings years of expertise in developing youth-facing public health messaging, and we’re honored to put those efforts towards addressing the urgent fentanyl and prescription drug misuse crisis affecting young people across the nation at alarming rates,” said Amy Taylor, Chief of Community Engagement of Truth Initiative, the organization behind truth. “Building on our evidence-based ‘Vaping: Know the truth’ curriculum, which has already been used by nearly one million students to date, we’re excited to see ‘Prescription Drug Safety: Know the truth’ have a similar impact.”

A recent study of Prescription Drug Safety: Know the truth showed strong evidence that this type of digital curriculum showed a positive impact on behavioral intent and attitudes as it relates to prescription drug use across all genders, races, and other demographic characteristics.

Campaign proven to increase knowledge about opioid misuse

This marks the second collaboration between Truth Initiative and EVERFI following the Vaping: Know the truth curriculum, which provides students with facts on the health risks of e-cigarettes and nicotine use. It also offers resources to help young people who are currently using e-cigarettes to quit through truth’s first-of-its-kind text message quit vaping program, This is Quitting, which has inspired more than 644,000 youth and young adults to quit vaping nicotine. Since the curriculum’s launch, a total of 800,000 students have actively engaged with the course, and it is being used by more than 9,000 schools nationwide. Peer-reviewed research shows that Vaping: Know the truth significantly improved middle and high school students’ knowledge about e-cigarettes, and beginning in January 2024, the curriculum will include a module on cannabis vapes.

Using its proven-successful tobacco prevention strategy — giving young people the facts and empowering them to make their own decisions — Truth Initiative developed the Emmy Award-winning The Truth About Opioids campaign, which effectively increased knowledge about opioid misuse, decreased stigma, and increased the likelihood to seek out and share information in young people. Published findings studying the campaign’s effectiveness underscore the importance of public education and prevention — alongside emergency response, treatment, and recovery — in the comprehensive effort to combat the crisis.

“Given the devastating consequences of the opioid epidemic,” wrote the authors of the study, “now is the time to mount a comprehensive prevention effort to help reduce opioid misuse among young people.”

Schools and students can learn more and sign up for the Prescription Drug Safety: Know the truth course at https://everfi.com/courses/k-12/prescription-drug-safety-high-school/.

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