COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio's governor wants parents and adults to talk to children about the dangers of abusing drugs and other substances, as the state works to combat problems with prescription pain pills and heroin.
Drug overdoses, spurred by increased use of painkillers and heroin, has surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio.
Gov. John Kasich plans Wednesday to promote a state initiative aimed at getting the drug-free message to middle and high school students. He will be joined his wife, NFL Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz, the attorney general and others to discuss the effort at two schools in southwest Ohio.
Parents may be surprised when drugs are found at high schools or a child has taken prescription drugs from a friends' family member, said Tracy Plouck, the director of the state's Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
"Kids are using drugs and tempted to use drugs all across the state, and there's a sort of 'not-in-my-backyard' sense among parents sometimes," Plouck said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"What we're really trying to do is raise parental awareness that it can happen, and it's important to stay ahead of that," she said.
The governor's "Start Talking" initiative draws from new and existing drug prevention programs.
A state website for the initiative directs parents and school leaders to free resources from The Partnership at Drugfree.org. The information includes a video, discussion guide and documents so adults can speak more confidently to their kids about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. Parents, teachers and caregivers also can sign up for twice-monthly emailed newsletters from the Drug Free Action Alliance for tips about how to talk to their children about the issue.
Plouck said the prevention message is critical to middle-school students.
"Many young people haven't been exposed to that sort of temptation prior to the middle-school years," she said, adding that they are still forming opinions. "We really want to make sure that parents are having really open, honest and candid discussions with their children by that point."
Roughly two out of 10 of high school students reported having ever used prescription pain relievers or painkillers without a doctor's prescription, according to a 2011 survey of 9th to 12th graders by Ohio's health department.
Other efforts in the initiative include a program in which members of the State Highway Patrol and Ohio National Guard meet with high school athletes and encourage them to talk to their peers about being drug-free. Ohio officials also will soon take grant applications from schools and nonprofits in low-income areas whose drug prevention efforts might not have enough money or resources. The state expects to award the federal dollars in April so that the programs can begin during the fall school year.
Plouck declined to disclose the amount of the grant program, saying the state wants to first assess the quality of the proposals.
Ohio has tried to choke off supply and cut pain pill abuse. But the quick spread in recent years in the United States of cheap, potent heroin from Mexico and other countries has sent drug abuse and overdoses skyrocketing in the region.
Attorney General Mike DeWine calls heroin abuse an epidemic killing at least 11 Ohioans a week. DeWine's office has said there were than 600 heroin overdose deaths in the state in 2012, a figure that more than doubled since 2010.
School and parent participation in the initiative is voluntary, though the state says it has commitments from districts that plan to use the materials.