Combatting substance abuse during COVID-19 requires creativity

Steuben Prevention Coalition engages students through social media to raise awareness

The economic downturn, isolation, stress and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are driving increased drug and alcohol use; however, this is not a new problem for residents of Steuben County, NY. A 2019 survey of area adults found that almost 90% think youth under 21 are at risk of harming themselves if they take prescription drugs not prescribed to them. Another poll of teens and young adults in 2017 indicated that 65% of those in the 18-25 years of age range consider it somewhat or very easy to obtain a prescription pain reliver not prescribed to them.

To address these issues, the Steuben Prevention Coalition, a non-profit that promotes healthy and safe communities by reducing alcohol and drug use among teens and young adults, established an Opioid Committee in 2019. Focused on raising awareness, data collection and supporting the reduction of opioid abuse, the Opioid Committee participates in the Regional Opioid Task Force. Partners include the Hornell Concern for Youth, Family Services Society, Steuben Council on Addictions and the Director of Steuben County Community Services, and support is provided by Catholic Charities of Steuben.

Earlier this year, Connie Terry joined the Steuben Prevention Coalition—a DisposeRx Community Outreach partner—as the program assistant for the Opioid Committee. Recently retired after 31 years as a middle and high school teacher, Terry had woven in drug education throughout her teaching career and had many ideas on how to engage teens and young adults. Unfortunately, the coronavirus has had other plans, limiting the type of interaction and events that can be conducted—challenging the group to find creative ways to sustain program momentum.

“As we considered ways to continue to get our educational and program information out, I put my teacher hat on and started to write up lesson plans,” Terry said. “We decided it would be effective to have kids talking to kids through videos and to promote them via social media to maximize their reach.”

Terry was able to connect with former students and soon found several willing volunteers to create educational videos for posting to TikTok, YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram and Facebook. The videos created by the teens cover a range of topics including drug safety and overdose prevention, how to safely dispose of unused and unneeded medication that includes a demo of DisposeRx packets, and the risks of marijuana and alcohol use.

One of the DisposeRx videos features Hadley, a student at Canisteo-Greenwood Central School, explaining how to use DisposeRx and other prevention methods.

Once the pandemic is under control and things open up back up Terry plans to continue education efforts to encourage opioid stewardship through distribution of DisposeRx packets with local pharmacies, retirement, hospice and hospital facilities, veterinarians, realtors, funeral directors and others who can share the message about safe drug disposal.

“It was not until I took this job that I became aware the dangers of unused medications and at-home drug disposal,” Terry added. “I don’t think the average person considers that when people are in their home they need to lock up their medication. If a guest uses your restroom, they may go through your medicine cabinet and take a few pills, but not the entire bottle. We want to think the best of people and don’t realize that opioid abuse can occur in any family, any socio-economic background and any age. If we can bring awareness and teach our community partners how to properly dispose of medications, we can create a ripple effect that can impact our other efforts.”

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