NARRAGANSETT – The University of Rhode Island is partnering with Narragansett High School in an effort to combat prescription opioid misuse and abuse. The collaboration comes in the form of a URI program designed to provide a peer component to high school-aged students to educate the youth on the risks and health effects of opioid addiction and misuse.

RAMS (RX Addiction and Medication Safety) program is a new opioid misuse education initiative where students of URI’s College of Pharmacy will meet with 9th grade students regularly to discuss the health risks of opioid abuse. The three-week programs covers the safe storage, use and disposal of medications, the signs and symptoms of opioid misuse, overdose identification and response and treatment and recovery of resources. The main goal of the project, however, is to appeal to high school students through peer relationships.

“My colleague, Jeff Bratberg, and I really developed this curriculum as a four-week process and managed it to be interactive,” said Kelly Matson, a clinical professor at the URI College of Pharmacy and co-creator of the program. “Each week, pharmacy students come in, and they are trained in the program to be that peer representation for the 9th-grade students. The idea was for them to use that interaction to discuss the health-related issues surrounding misuse.”

For some statistics, Rhode Island ranks fifth nationally for fatal overdoses. 13.1 percent of all Rhode Island students report having used a prescription medication non-medically in their lifetime, data notably higher than national trends. When asked where they obtained their last prescription drug without a doctor’s prescription, 9.7% of Rhode Island students reported they bought it at school.

According to a 2015 survey by Rhode Island Kids Count, Narragansett ranks highest in Washington County in terms of youth substance abuse. The survey shows that 6 percent of Narragansett Middle School students have used alcohol, compared to 3 percent at Chariho, 2 percent in North Kingstown, 5 percent in South Kingstown and 4 percent in Westerly. At the high school, 32 percent of students surveyed reported having used alcohol, in comparison to Chariho’s 26 percent, North Kingstown’s 20 percent, South Kingstown’s 24 percent and Westerly’s 21 percent. When it comes to abusing prescription drugs, 13 percent of Narragansett High School students had reported using prescription medication non-medically, compared to Chariho’s 12 percent, North Kingstown’s 11 percent, South Kingstown’s 11 percent and Westerly’s 10 percent.

“I thought it was really quite alarming that our school district of Narragansett leads in six of the eight categories,” said School Committee Vice Chair Diane Nobles at the group’s meeting last Wednesday, where the school committee unanimously approved the program.

RAMS ran a pilot test of the program in eight public high schools last year, including East Greenwich and Barrington. Matson said the surveys from those schools after the initiative had been completed showed a great improvement in students’ understanding of opioid addiction and misuse.

Superintendent of Narragansett Schools Dr. Peter Cummings said URI’s timing was “impeccable” with the implementation of the program, and said NHS Principal Dan Warner and Assistant Principal Toby Gibbons were in favor of the curriculum presented by the initiative and its timing. Students will participate in the program during twice-weekly, 30-minute advisory sessions.  

 “One reason why we’re trying to implement a program specifically surrounding prescription drug and opioid misuse is really the new statistics are coming up showing predictors for heroin transition,” said Matson. “We know it’s driving the epidemic here within New England – early age, before 15, initiation of non-medical opioid use and that’s exactly what we’re talking about.”

Along with the initiative comes a three-part survey NHS students can complete throughout the process. The survey, which is filled out online and takes 10-15 minutes to complete, hopes to collect data regarding how students perceive addiction and has been approved by the Rhode Island Department of Education and URI Institutional Review Board. Before taking the survey, permission slips will go out to students’ parents.

Cummings said he hopes the initiative will be started at NHS by February 2018.

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