Stories of children lost too soon, the statistics on drug overdoses, and firsthand accounts of addiction all comprised the regional launch at Marietta High School of the Start Talking! campaign, a statewide youth drug abuse prevention initiative in Ohio designed to get children, parents and educators talking about substance abuse.
The launch was held Tuesday morning in the high school's auditorium and featured an array of speakers from the community and from the state of Ohio.
The initiative, championed by the state of Ohio and Gov. John Kasich and his wife, is a series of four programs designed to help parents understand and communicate risks, provide programming for schools and to encourage peer to peer conversations.
JACKIE RUNION The Marietta Times
Cathy Harper, of Marietta, speaks about her family’s story at the regional launch of Ohio’s Start Talking! youth drug prevention initiative at Marietta High Tuesday.
The message from the launch to the community was that no one is immune to drug abuse and misuse, and that the conversations, which are often considered taboo, need to happen now.
"If you've been in education long enough, you've experienced these kind of disappointments when kids go down the wrong path," said Marietta City Schools Superintendent Harry Fleming.
The program was launched by the state Jan. 8, and has been kicking off at local levels throughout winter and spring.
Ohio's new youth drug abuse prevention initiative.
Championed by Gov. John Kasich and First Lady Karen W. Kasich.
Launched Jan. 8 in Ohio; regional Washington County launch held Tuesday.
Four programs designed to educate and create programming for drug abuse and prevention.
Know!: A Drug-Free Action Alliance program to educate parents on raising children substance free.
5 Minutes to Life: In partnership with high schools and law enforcement to empower student athletes to be peer mentors.
Parents360 Rx: Drugfree.org programming to increase knowledge of substance abuse.
Building Youth Resiliency: Program from Karen W. Kasich that seeks local community leaders to build evidence-based programs and research about substance abuse and student resiliency.
Visit starttalking.ohio.gov for more information about building programs and holding events.
Jason Schob, a Marietta native who recently took on the position of head football coach at Marietta High School, spoke about being eager to turn the campaign into something that can positively impact his team and the school as a whole.
"My goal is not to rack up as many wins as possible, it is to create quality human beings," Schob said. "It is very hard to be a teenager in today's society, when drugs are very available, and there's a lot of peer pressure out there. For that, we need to change the culture here at MHS."
Schob will be working on 5 Minutes to Life, one of the campaign's separate programs, led by the Ohio Highway Patrol and Ohio National Guard that partners local law enforcement with student athletes to encourage them to become peer leaders in the ongoing conversation about drug abuse.
A mother from the Dayton area who has been traveling around the state to share her story urged Washington County residents to push that ongoing conversation.
Danielle Smoot lost her 16-year-old son Cole three years ago after he caved into peer pressure and tried a pill a friend had been given at school.
Cole died within the next 24 hours after never having abused drugs before.
"There is no such thing as 'that type,' because every single person is susceptible to abuse and misuse, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic status," Smoot said. "Cole was not a drug user, it just took one pill."
She urged parents and adults to have the conversation in schools, at the dinner table and whenever with their children, as studies have shown that children are 50 percent less likely to use drugs if those talks happen.
"They're just asking you to simply talk," Smoot said. "While it may be difficult, please have that conversation; it's worth the time."
As the Smoot family experienced firsthand, drug overdoses often result from prescription medications, according to Ohio's Opiate Action Team Director Ormon Hall.
"The dramatic increase seems to have come from a practice pattern in health care with an increase in prescription opiates," he said. "There is almost a 1-to-1 ratio in increase in opiates to opiate overdoses."
Hall said there were 1,914 drug overdoses in Ohio in 2012, many of them from adolescents and young adults.
Adam, a recovering local addict who chose to retain anonymity by not using his last name, came to speak at the launch about his own experiences.
"I had a normal life, with sports, a loving family, good grades and married parents," said Adam, who began using while a student at Ohio State. "I rationalized it because I thought 'This is what college students do,' but it eventually became daily life."
Adam explained that he went from just drinking, to smoking marijuana and eventually abusing pills and harder drugs.
"I had three choices: jail, institution, or death, and I'm fortunate to only have gotten jail," he said.
Washington County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Mark Warden urged families to monitor the prescriptions in their homes at all times, as he recalled a local family whose son began using heroin after starting on prescription pills.
"No parent should have to check the blankets every day to see if their child is still breathing," Warden said. "Just don't do it, because drugs do not pick you; you decide to take them."
Cathy Harper, a longtime Marietta resident and current city treasurer whose own son is battling addiction, spoke about the importance of prevention and having a community that supports recovery.
"We need jobs and economic development in this area that are willing to give second, third, fourth and even fifth chances to people trying to recover, because relapse is a problem," she said. "The young people of today can be the generation that starts this change."
Besides 5 Minutes To Life, the campaign also includes three other programs.
Know! is a partnership with the Drug-Free Action Alliance that gives tips to parents and caregivers on how to raise their children substance free.
Parents360 Rx is a national community education program to increase knowledge of substance abuse among adults to help prevention efforts in local communities.
Building Youth Resiliency is a program piloted by Ohio First Lady Karen W. Kasich to seek members of local communities to use evidence-based prevention programs in the community and schools.
Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Director Tracy Plouck noted the $1.5 million in grants that has been distributed throughout Ohio's communities to build prevention programs, including $360,000 given to communities throughout Southeast Ohio.
"In many communities there hasn't been that kind of research because there were no resources, but this money will help that," Plouck said.