District combats epidemics with education, partnerships

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Vaping has recently been declared an official epidemic for youth by the U.S. surgeon general, and the Cranston Public Schools, Cranston Police Department, Cranston Substance Abuse Task Force and Dan Fitzgerald at the Tobacco Free Rhode Island organization have all been working together to ramp up their efforts to combat the epidemic with education and support for its students and families.

Additionally, continued efforts are underway to address the opioid epidemic that has taken over the nation in recent years.

John Macera, program supervisor for the physical education and health programs in Cranston’s schools, spoke recently about the important work that is being done across the city to support students and families and how the partnership formed with several agencies aims to help take the lead in the vaping issue.

“Dana DeVerna from the Cranston Substance Abuse Task Force has received grants that she is using for programs for the schools,” he said. “Kids need these types of programs in order to educate them about vaping, because nationwide we saw a huge spike in the number of kids vaping and the young ages that they’re starting to vape. Dana and her colleague at the task force, Kaitlyn, have been traveling from school to school doing a presentation at each of the four middle schools for their eighth-grade teams about the dangers of vaping. There are staff members, physical education and health teachers, and Cranston Police Department school resource officers all there for the presentations.”

In addition to the student programming taking place, professional development is being offered by the task force, Tobacco Free RI and police and school staff.

As is the case with new technology and new epidemics, there is not a great deal of long-term research on the effects and dangers of vaping. The short-term findings, however, are startling, especially in terms of the effects on youth users who are quickly becoming addicted.

“The tobacco industry has done a clever job of circumventing the rules in order to get this next generation addicted,” Macera said. “They are marketing it as a safe alternative to smoking. They are creating flavors with names that are attractive to kids and that smell good and taste good. Little do the kids know how much nicotine is in just one pod that they are inhaling. Parents, adults who are just as uneducated also think that this is safe.”

DeVerna and her staff are not only working in the schools to help with the issues of these recent epidemics, but they are also working behind the scenes, putting information out to the public consistently on their newly updated Facebook page and website.

Macera shared that while the eighth-grade students across Cranston are learning about the dangers of vaping, a state mandate requires that all seventh- and 10-grade students receive a presentation about opioid use because of the spike in addictions and overdoses nationwide.

“We’ve partnered with CVS pharmacists and their coordinator, Jennifer Thiele, to present workshops at the middle schools and at the high schools,” he said. “We are really trying to create a strong partnership between the schools and each of these community partners as we deliver these workshops and presentations.”

At Cranston High School West, a new Student Assistance counselor has been added to the staff. Through the Student Assistance program, the counselor will be providing substance abuse prevention, education and counseling services to high school students.

The goal of the program is to prevent and reduce alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use and improve school performance.

At the administration level, Macera noted that work is also being done to update the wording in the district’s student handbook to specifically include vaping.

For more information about the dangers of vaping and other addictive substances, visit the Cranston Substance Abuse Task Force’s website (cranstonsatf.org) and Facebook page.

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