On May 7th, elected officials, educators, healthcare and pharmaceutical professionals, and other stakeholders gathered together for the annual Prescription Drug Safety Network Summit.  Hosted by EVERFI, the event facilitated an exchange of ideas concerning the country’s opioid epidemic. The Summit agenda featured speakers from a range of industries and geographies.

Throughout the Summit, there were no shortage of insights into health education and the issue of prescription drug abuse prevention. Despite the array of perspectives, several thematic through lines emerged. Speakers continuously pushed for educational approaches that take into account the entire student, addressing particular aspects that affect children’s well-being and future success.

A morning panel featured Jamie Sparks, President of SHAPE America – Society of Health and Physical Educators and former Health Director at the Kentucky Department of Education; Dr. Wanda Cook Robinson, Superintendent of 28 school districts in Michigan; and Denille LePlatt, who oversees 146 rural districts as the Director of Rural Services at the Colorado Department of Education.

Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC)

Developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), the WSCC theory considers a variety of components that can impede academic achievement, graduation rates, healthy behaviors and other key outcomes. The theory considers how each child is affected by elements such as their school and community, the social and emotional climate, access to health education and services, evidence-based school practices, safety, physical activity, and family engagement.  “There are different metrics we need to look at around education accountability,” Sparks said. “If we rely solely on end-of-year test scores, that’s not going to be enough. But if we look at it from a collective impact approach through the WSCC model, we’ll see a lot more progress.”

Holistic, Community-Based Efforts

Dr. Robinson and LePlatt both stressed the need for widespread support in order to successfully implement health curricula in schools. Not only should teachers be involved, but also community mental health workers, special service providers, and support staff. “It’s not only the teacher in the classroom who is going to support these students,” LePlatt said. “It’s everyone in the school, it’s the parents, and it’s the community.” She also encouraged districts to incorporate Parent Engagement Plans into their school health infrastructure to help families connect with the resources they need to support their children’s health at home.

Further into the day, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) talked about how people struggling with addiction often began self-medicating because of other challenges in their lives, such as depression, domestic violence, and lack of medical care. “We can’t expect people to spend a few weeks in rehab, return to the same situations they left, and have universal success,” said Sen. Menendez. “We need to invest in our communities.”  

Later, the Summit moved to examine the ways excessive technology and social media use affect children’s wellbeing. Students who spend five or more hours a day online are twice as likely to say they are unhappy. Dr. Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, emphasized the impact of technology on lack of sleep, depression, suicide, and other poor outcomes. “Sleep is so crucial for mental health and making good decisions, including decisions around drug and alcohol use and prescription drug misuse,” said Dr. Twenge. She believes the healthiest solution is limited use of technology (1-2 leisure hours per day) combined with more sleep, face-to-face interactions, sports and exercise, and other positive activities.

A nationwide effort to implement effective models of health education could be the solution to modern challenges this generation faces. Today’s young people seem to be considerably more concerned with safety than their predecessors, evidenced by declining misuse of prescription drugs among teens. As Dr. Twenge put it, “This generation might be poised to end the opioid epidemic.”

To learn more about the work of the Prescription Drug Safety Network click here.