Schools to focus on fentanyl in drug education programme: ‘Just saying no was not enough’

Schools to focus on fentanyl in drug education programme: ‘Just saying no was not enough’

The current fentanyl crisis has caused changes in drug education. Now, schools and police departments feel that children as early as 5th grade should be learning about the dangers of drugs.

The Dare America program has been around since 1983, and originally taught kids to “Just Say No to Drugs”. Now, its message is changing, and Venina Smith says her son could have benefited from the updated curriculum.

“My son passed away from fentanyl poisoning on September 16, 2020. He was 40 when he passed away, and had struggled with addiction and mental health for many years since he was a teenager,” Smith said.

Smith said her son’s drug addiction began in middle and high school, even though he received drug abuse resistance education led by Dare’s police. He believes the program needs an upgrade.

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Venina Smith lost her son to fentanyl poisoning. She says she struggled with drug addiction as a teenager. (Venina Smith)

“It was old. ‘Just Say No’ wasn’t [enough]” said Smith. “Don’t just say no, but say no to what?”

Now, the federally funded program’s curriculum has shifted to “Keeping It Real.”

Dennis Osborne serves as Western Regional Director for DARE Americas. Osborne says the updated curriculum helps bring awareness to the harsh realities of new drugs and the consequences of addiction.

DARE officers teaching in Houston schools

DARE officers teach students in the Houston Independent School District. (Fox News / Joy Addison)

“We start teaching them in 8th grade and middle school about addiction cycles and how the brain works and how it can become addicted to certain substances like heroin, fentanyl, opioids,” Osborne said.

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The CDC reported that fentanyl deaths increased by more than 180% for people ages 10 to 19 from 2019 to 2021.

teen fentanyl overdose

Fentanyl overdoses among people aged 10 to 19 increased by more than 180% from 2019 to 2021. (Joey Addison / Fox News)

The Houston Independent School District restarted its DARE program in the fall of 2020. Brittany Burden, who serves as the Houston ISD DARE officer, said drugs are changing and advancing — daily.

“Five or 10 years ago, we didn’t know the extent of the problem with fentanyl, and so now our kids are exposed to it. They can get it as easily as in food or a piece of candy. Do. Of their classmates,” Burden said.

In 2021, DARE will add a fentanyl fact sheet to its program — a change Smith says could help save lives.

Dare Fentanyl Fact Sheet

DARE recently added a Fentanyl Fact Sheet to its program. (Joey Addison / Fox News)

“Some kids start using as early as age 12,” Burden said. “If we don’t get the message across about what these drugs are doing, and how fentanyl is included in these illegal drugs, then kids will think ‘Oh, that might be OK.'”

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Dare reports nearly 6,000 law enforcement agencies — about one-third of America’s departments — put their officers in schools across the country.

In addition to a new focus on fentanyl education in the face of the opioid crisis, there are other school programs similar to DARE, such as The All Stars Core Program and Child Development Project, which address teen suicide and social media safety awareness.


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