By Mark Powell
Addiction Education Makes Futures Brighter, Safer, and Healthier
Education, they say, makes all the difference. An innovative program is making a big difference in young lives in one New Hampshire town.
Like many law enforcement officers, Robert Cormier was tired of seeing the pain inflicted by opioids. As chief of police in Tilton, he’d witnessed too many times how addiction damages lives and destroys families. He also understood the especially tough toll it takes on children.“
Kids are in drug-heavy areas,” Chief Cormier said. “Parents and sibling are using drugs. Even the kids are using drugs.”
He knew something had to be done about it.
Three years ago, Chief Cormier began looking for a new way to help children in homes struggling with addiction. He was serving as president of the New Hampshire Chiefs of Police Association when he discovered LEAD, Law Enforcement Against Drugs, and instantly realized he’d found something special.
LEAD is different from traditional “Don’t do drugs” lectures from adults. It’s an evidence-based drug prevention curriculum that features a unique approach. School staff and law enforcement teach side-by-side, sharing the same prevention message to middle schoolers.
“These are the key years,” says Superintendent of Schools Robert Seaward. “It’s when students start making decisions.” Which makes it even more important that they receive a consistent message.
Here’s how LEAD works. Educators and law enforcement teach side-by-side, talking about addiction and sharing tips for avoiding drugs. “Officers and teachers cover not just prevention, but explain why their mom and dad, their brother or sister, are going through what they’re going through,” says Chief Cormier. “That helps students grasp what’s going in their life and why it’s happening.”
One lesson begins with a deceptively simple exercise. Students are given 30 seconds to copy a paragraph. But there’s a catch: they can’t dot the I’s or cross the T’s. That drives home an important point. “It’s hard because you’re so used to dotting and crossing, it’s a habit,” Officer Richard Ort says. He goes on to explain how using substances is the same. “It becomes a habit, and you get used to it so it can be really hard to stop.” By personally experiencing difficulty on a small scale, students can understand how hard it is to break a habit, and how that, in turn, relates to the four stages of substance use: first-time use, occasional use, planned use, and regular use.
Chief Cormier partnered with the Winnisquam School District to bring LEAD to Winnisquam Middle School in the spring of 2017. After a successful pilot program, LEAD expanded schoolwide during the 2017-18 school year.
Students meet every Friday for 45 minutes. They work through LEAD’s 10-week, grade-specific curriculum. And it’s producing effective results. Students are talking openly about the drugs they see in school. They also say LEAD provides them skills they need to stand their ground and not give into peer pressure.
There’s another benefit as well. Encouraging police officers to teach the curriculum gets them personally involved in schools. That creates positive relationships between officers and students that can extend beyond the classroom. Students learn law enforcement officers are figures they can approach and talk to rather than avoid and fear.
Law Enforcement Against Drugs was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.