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DuPage OKs new heroin prevention program for schools

The DuPage County Board has approved a heroin prevention program slated to begin in some local schools in the fall.

Naperville North High School and Washington Junior High in School District 203 may be among the schools to participate in the program, designed to educate eighth-graders and high school sophomores about the dangers of the drug.

The program will be led by the Robert Crown Center, a non-profit focusing on health issues as they relate to education.

“Education was deemed to be the way to go,” County Board member Grant Eckhoff (R-Wheaton) told the board before the vote this week. “We want to try to educate everybody.”

Eckhoff was speaking of a consensus reached by the group DuPage Coalition Against Heroin, formed in the wake of a spike in heroin-related overdose deaths in 2013.

The pilot program will cost the county $67,746 in the first year, the entire cost of the program for 12 schools.

The school districts involved will begin splitting the costs in the second and third year of the program, and eventually the county’s commitment will be phased out.

County Board member Gary Grasso (R-Burr Ridge) pointed out the the county’s financial responsibility is not open-ended.

“This will not be envisioned as a long-term commitment,” he said.

The program has already been tested in a small number of DuPage schools, including Neuqua Valley High School and Crone Middle School in District 204, and Robert Crown officials are cautiously optimistic.

“Reaction has been very positive so far,” Robert Crown CEO R.J. McMahon said. “It does make an impact.”

The program includes lesson plans, presentations, activities and interactive learning materials.

A movie portraying the experience of a reformed heroin addict puts a human face on the problem of heroin addiction and offers visual incentive to stay away from the drug, Robert Crown officials said.

An outside auditor will evaluate the program after its first year, focusing on the actual delivery of the lessons and judging the effectiveness of the materials and teaching approach.

The second year evaluation will focus on what students have learned and how well it stays with them.

“What have they retained, what have they learned,” McMahon said would be emphasized.

Robert Crown officials said with heroin use on the rise in DuPage County over the past several years, a new program is needed.

Kathryn Karsh, education coordinator for Robert Crown, said that “kids didn’t learn about heroin before … now kids can sniff it or smoke it … and it’s cheap.”

Karsh stressed the need for patience in evaluating the success of the program.

“You have to wait awhile (to judge the program),” she said.

Eckhoff emphasized that the County Board has a moral responsibility to help prevent heroin use, and an obligation to assist other county officials in fighting the drug.

“We are not the people in the morgue, or in the courtrooms,” he said. “But we hold the purse strings.”

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