Every day, more than 90 Americans die after overdosing on opioids. The misuse of and addiction to opioids — including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl — is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.
“Ohio is No. 1 for heroin deaths and No. 1 for opioid deaths , so last year all four of my counties made policy about working with their local drug and alcohol boards on this issue,” said Michele Specht, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation organization director for Carroll, Harrison, Jefferson and Tuscarawas counties. “This issue affects everybody and there are very few agriculture families that aren’t affected by this.”
What started as a grassroots effort with county policy to curb opioid addiction in 2016, continued on with meetings with local Alcohol Drug and Mental Health Boards in Carroll and Tuscarawas counties.
“We were so educated about this issue after just the first meeting with the experts on the topic of opioids,” Specht said. “They told us that the biggest impact we can have in our communities with our efforts was to stay in our lane and we needed to work on prevention projects.”
Specht and her counties Farm Bureaus found their best plan of attack was to work with rural youth though 4-H, FFA and Ohio Farm Bureau.
“We can’t completely solve the problem and help people overcome drug abuse but we can help prevent drug abuse,” Specht said.
As momentum began to build through the four counties’ push for drug abuse prevention, they teamed up with the Ohio Attorney General’s office for community rallies and then joined forces with District 98 State Representative Al Landis.
“We climbed on board with Representative Landis’ ‘Got Your Back’ campaign and we made it into ‘Farm Bureau, 4-H and FFA has Got Your Back,’” Specht said. “We traveled throughout the counties and took back-to-back pictures of kids with adults, 4-H advisors, the County Sheriffs, firefighters and put those pictures all over the fairgrounds.”
The counties then received a $5,000 grant through FFA, which was used to purchase a photo booth. Kids visiting the county fairs could sit in the booth with someone that “Had Their Back,” get their picture taken and walk away with a ‘”Say No to Drugs” t-shirt and a positive message that Specht hopes will resonate.
“Its’ our responsibility as adults to really help these kids,” Specht said. “This is our way of doing that.”
Because of the success of the program, Carroll and Tuscarawas Counties won the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation County Achievement Award as well as a Collaboration Award. Those two counties also won an American Farm Bureau Federation County Activity of Excellence Award.