During my many years of working in the substance abuse field, I have seen the rise and fall of many different trends. In recent years, teen prescription (Rx) drug abuse has been of significant concern. The trend towards Rx drug abuse has been supported by national data sources indicating that one in four high school students has taken a prescription medication that was not prescribed for them by a doctor, and more teens abuse prescription drugs than illegal drugs, with the exception of marijuana.
In my work with the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), I have been fortunate to assist school nurses in responding to the concern of Rx drug abuse impacting students. In 2007, NASN and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., teamed up to create Smart Moves, Smart Choices (SMSC). As an effort to raise national awareness, the SMSC initiative has been informing parents, teens, and educators about teen prescription drug abuse and its serious risks. Smart Moves, Smart Choices features a website and educational videos. The multi-faceted initiative also offers a tool kit that enables educators to hold school assemblies about teen prescription drug abuse in their communities.
When working on the development of SMSC materials and delving into what school nurses were seeing with regards to Rx drug abuse, I spoke with Beth Mattey, a Delaware school nurse and NASN President-Elect. She shared, “In my practice as a high school nurse, I am well aware of the choices students must make on a daily basis. The reality is that our youth face the availability of all types of substances. The presence of responsible adults with positive messages and support is critical for helping students navigate safely into adulthood.”
More and more schools and parents are recognizing that school nurses are critical prevention agents in schools. Their education and assessment skills provide them with an added advantage in addressing substance-related issues. In addition, school nurses are often considered the most trusted school professional, and they have a better than average understanding of student behaviors and culture due to their daily interactions with students outside of the classroom. Often the school nurse will be the first person to identify when a student may potentially have a problem with prescription drugs.
Having access to the free-of-charge resource of Smart Moves, Smart Choices over the last several years has made a positive impact on students and their families throughout the country. School nurses and other specialized instructional support personnel (school social workers, psychologists, counselors, etc.) have taken the lead to implement the various components of the initiative. Awareness has been raised about the serious health problem related to the misuse and abuse of prescription medication among teens; and practical resource information has been provided. The recognized myths and misconceptions about prescription drug use are now being discussed in strategic ways and students and their families are learning how the abuse of prescription drugs can impact judgment and decision making. The message is being relayed that the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs can lead to risky behaviors; and can result in addiction, serious health issues and in some cases, death. Additionally, the fact that mixing prescription drugs with alcohol can be deadly is explained through the SMSC materials.
New Additions to the Smart Moves, Smart Choices Initiative
The video entitled “Choices” depicts the serious decisions faced by teens, including whether or not to abuse prescription drugs.
These materials are designed to be used by educators in the elementary school setting to raise children’s awareness of safe and proper use of medicines.
Everyone who wants to learn more about prescription drug abuse and access free-of-charge prevention materials designed to reach elementary and secondary students and their families are encouraged to go to www.SmartMovesSmartChoices.org. Without age appropriate factual information and prevention messages, young people will draw their own uninformed conclusions which often lead to negative consequences.
Going back to a practicing school nurse to determine the usefulness of Rx drug abuse prevention materials, Beth Mattey further explained, “School nurses appreciate the comprehensive resources brought to them through the work of NASN and Janssen. Many of our nurses stand ready to put them to good use. They know that the time has never been more right to encourage young people to make smart moves and smart choices!”
Mary Louise Embrey began working in the substance abuse field in 1974 at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. After her retirement from federal service, she became the first director of government affairs for the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), and currently serves as NASN’s substance abuse prevention consultant.