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Hampton reaches out to younger grades in addiction education

November 29, 2018

A recent Substance Abuse Prevention Seminar at Hampton Middle School focused on educating parents and students as young as fifth and sixth grades about the dangers of addiction.

The event was led by Dr. Charles Tom Brophy of Trinity Wellness Center and Addiction Medicine, who has been volunteering his time visiting schools and communities to educate about addictions. He addressed parents and students in these grades about the dangers of addiction in this combined session.

The district is part of the Hampton Community Opioid Partnership.

This is the first time an event like this has been held for students at those grade levels, said Dr. Laurie Tocci, principal at Wyland Elementary. She coordinated this along with Marlynn Lux, principal at the middle school.

The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends beginning substance abuse awareness and prevention with students as early as fifth grade, according to a HTSD press release on the event. Also, Tocci said the school received requests from the Parent Teacher Organization on organizing something like this.

Tocci said in the first half of the seminar, parents and students were educated on the science of addiction, such as the chemistry and physiology components of what happens to the brain when taking opioids and drugs.

For the second half, break-out sessions included Hampton school counselors and principals taking students and having age-appropriate discussions on addiction, including role-playing scenarios of what to do if friends were offering drugs and how to say no.

Children also learned abuse of an over-the-counter drug can lead to trying out other drugs, said Tocci.

During the students’ break-out session, parents were given more in-depth discussion on addiction and how to recognize children engaging in behaviors that may lead to drug abuse.

Brophy, who also is an emergency room doctor, said information on this at earlier grades is recommended for various reasons. The younger a person is when they try an illicit drug or chemical substance known to be addictive, including opioids, tobacco, alcohol, or vaping, the more likely they will have addiction issues related to that chemical substance. This is partly because of the effects it has on a developing brain.

Another reason kids this young are targeted is because education in this age group works very well in regard to behavior, Brophy said.

“It is very important to target this age group because this is the time right before these kids are going to be experiencing the peer pressure associated with being a teenager. We know quite well that around 13 to 14 years old, many people will experience peer pressure to try their first cigarette, try their first beer, and try various mind-altering drugs for the first time. But for many, once those chemical hooks set in, it can be very difficult to get things back on track,” Brophy said.

He continued that preventing that use, even until the brain is better developed, will “significantly reduce the likelihood that the child will struggle with addiction for the remainder of their life.”

He said children also feel awkward discussing drug use with parents. And while parents may not feel awkward, they are not sure on how to approach the conversation. This session was to help with that.

“Having an education event like we did at HMS last week allows us to break down some of those barriers. Having open communication about these topics is massively important from both the child side and the parent side,” he said.

Brophy has three children of his own, two of whom attend Wyland. His wife even insisted his fourth-grade, 9-year-old son attend the session.

“I’m very proud to be a part of the Hampton community... and in my opinion nothing is more important than keeping our kids safe. I will always continue to play my part in that endeavor whenever and wherever possible,” Brophy said.

Tocci said the event was well attended. The school sent a survey out to those who attended shortly after for feedback. Most importantly, she said “we’re hopefully starting the conversation at home.”

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