School Board member John Laferriere is calling for proposals on how schools can address the regional heroin epidemic, saying the District needs to consider putting in place additional programs to educate and assist children in crisis.
In response to Laferriere’s initial request last month for a plan to address the steep rise in heroin abuse in Southern New Hampshire, administrators presented at the Board’s Dec. 8 meeting policies and a variety of programs and resources in the schools that address alcohol and substance abuse.
At the high school, students who are identified as “high-risk” are steered toward intervention programs, such as the summer Londonderry Incoming Freshman Transition (LIFT) program, and are encouraged to participate in extracurricular and co-curricular activities.
Additionally, members of the guidance department, teachers throughout the building and the School Resource Officer maintain strong relationships with students and offer support to those in need.
Tiffany Considine, a therapist with the Center for Life Management (CLM) in Derry who contracts with the high school, said she conducts confidential surveys of students, through which students who are involved with substance abuse or have a family member in crisis may reach out for support.
“We’re cognizant of gateway drug use, and we’re in tune with students who are prescribed medications and what that could lead to. We’re constantly working with our families and try to help them with the resources they need to beat addiction,” Londonderry High School Principal Jason Parent said. “Having CLM, our guidance staff and the health curriculum, we take pride in knowing our kids and working with our families. I think we’re taking an aggressive approach, and we’re happy to look at establishing more programs and reaching out to other schools to see what they’re doing.”
At the elementary level, South School Principal Linda Boyd said students are educated about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse during Red Ribbon Week and in fifth grade science.
“Students in fifth grade science classes go into the systems of the body, and at that time they discuss healthy choices that affect the body systems,” Boyd said.
The elementary schools do not have a drug and alcohol counselor as they did in previous years; instead, the counselors are focused primarily on bullying.
“A yearlong theme now is making good choices,” North School Principal Paul Dutton said. “That may look different as they transition from middle school to high school. We’re also utilizing our School Resource Officer and resources in the community for families to reach out, and a lot of it is at the elementary level.”
“We have a really good ratio of guidance counselors to students at the elementary level, and they run a variety of programs for students – everything from bullying to issues that revolve around the family,” Superintendent Nate Greenberg said. “So, when we have a situation where you have a child who is a member of a family that has some kind of drug involvement, the guidance counselors are able to intervene and provide assistance, as well as prevention.”
Noting the heroin epidemic is touching Londonderry neighborhoods, Laferriere said he would like to see an aggressive, targeted approach to how the District will educate students on heroin abuse specifically.
“I’d like to hear a response to what we’re considering to be an epidemic, and that’s heroin. We’re talking around it, saying we have policies to discuss drugs and how to find out about who is doing what and how to deal with it. I think we have to do something really different than what you have here,” he said. “I don’t want to have one of our kids die, one of our parents die. That’s real stuff, that’s the stuff we need to be addressing in our schools.”
Describing his vision for the effort as being similar to a public health campaign, Laferriere called for targeted education on heroin abuse.
“I think we do a great job in everything we do. We need to do a good job at this,” he said.
Board member Nancy Hendricks asked Parent and Middle School Principal Richard Zacchilli if there are students in the schools using heroin. Both said they aren’t aware of heroin abuse among their students.
Board member Steve Young expressed support for the comprehensive approach the District is taking to address the abuse of all drugs and alcohol.
“Having experienced this in my own family and the School District firsthand, I would say the District is doing a much better job at it today versus a decade ago,” he said, adding he is concerned about focusing their efforts on heroin. “I do believe students and parents have drug, alcohol and mental health issues of all kinds in our community.”
Additionally, Young said he believes the heroin crisis would best be addressed through a community effort, in which the schools could serve as collaborators and leaders.
Greenberg said it’s important for the community to understand the District has a number of programs in place to help students and families who are in crisis, and to prevent drug and alcohol use among students.
“Going back five, six, seven years we have been doing these things; and we do have programs in place,” he said.
Noting there are more people who have died from alcohol and prescription drug abuse than heroin, Greenberg argued it’s important the District “doesn’t lost sight of the other types of substance abuse.”
“There has to be multi-faceted effort, and we have to talk about pathology, and different types of abuse. In my mind, for high school students, the biggest concern for drug abuse is prescription drug use,” he said.
In regard to the heroin epidemic, specifically, Greenberg said the District is “more than happy to take a look at it and work with members of the community on it.”
Laferriere told Considine he would like to see how the number of heroin-related deaths in the community five years ago compares to the numbers the community saw this year.
“I think that helps drive some reality in a situation like this,” he said. “We need to figure out how to deal with this.”