Area schools should accept challenge on opiate abuse

If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem. That well-known but well-worn expression on the need to take direct action to effect positive change gains fresh vitality when targeted toward the opioid epidemic terrorizing our state and nation.

Those who stand idly by in silence do little to combat the heroin plague that continues to reach disturbingly new heights all around them.

Indeed any innovative program that encourages direct action toward slowing the growth of the epidemic should be encouraged and supported.

One such encouraging program that merits the support of all Ohioans comes from a partnership between the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] Learning Network.

Earlier this week, the two groups announced a creative classroom project that invites secondary school students to rise to the challenge of designing and implementing prescriptive strategies to lessen the opiate scourge in their own schools and hometowns.

The project’s potential value makes it one that Mahoning Valley schools should embrace and join.


The Design Challenge takes aim squarely at understanding and eliminating Ohio’s opioid crisis. The challenge consists of a multiweek project in which students working in groups learn by creating their original solutions to the vexing crisis. Such challenges offer an approach to problem-based learning that involves in-depth research to answer a wide swath of questions.

Throughout the school year, the Ohio STEM Learning Network will post resources and events to support schools in organizing local design challenges on the opiate epidemic. It also is hosting two free informational webinars on the project this month. In addition, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria will make public appearances across the state to promote the project.

“With this challenge, Ohio students will put their learning to the test to help solve a criticial challenge facing our state,” DeMaria said.

Clearly the potential gains for students, schools and communities are manifest.

Peer-to-peer learning toward heightened awareness of the opioid and heroin epidemic can succeed where other initiatives have failed in reaching an audience particularly at risk for sinking into the abyss of illicit drug abuse.

Nearly 1 in 4 high school seniors across the United States has been exposed to medical or nonmedical opioids and heroin, according to the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers. In addition, more than 90 percent of adults who develop a substance-abuse disorder began using before they were 18 years old, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation reported in September.

The design challenge also stands as a promising supplemental tool to other educational programs in place and planned in Ohio. The state attorney general, for example, has proposed implementing age-appropriate anti-opiate educational programs for students throughout the kindergarten through 12-grade spectrum.

The design challenge also provides an excellent opportunity for creative and interdisciplinary skill-building for ourstate’s young people. In planning their awareness and prevention challenges, students will draw upon a grab bag of tools from the fields of math, science, engineering and language arts. In making careful applications, the students also will build important critical thinking skills, an area of expertise that today’s test-frenzied curriculum too often shortchanges students.

In crafting a project on their own (with some guidance from teachers and others), many students also will gain a rich sense of achievement and empowerment that’s lacking when mastering formulas for the area of a hexagon, for example. These projects also have real world applications with potentially real-world benefits for their communities, their schools and their friends.

Considering that drug-overdose illnesses and deaths have quadrupled in Ohio over the past decade, the value of the STEM Design Challenge cannot be overstated. It is a tool that can provide measurable gains in student learning and significant contributions to our state’s ongoing and multi-pronged campaign to fight opioid abuse. As such, schools throughout the region should waste no time to stand up to and accept the challenge.

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