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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: November 30, 2017 04:29 PM
From: Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf
To: All Senate members
Subject: Enhancing Substance Abuse Prevention Education in Schools
In 1990, the General Assembly enacted a law (Act 211) requiring school districts to implement a comprehensive alcohol, chemical and tobacco abuse program which includes instruction in the classroom (every grade from K-12).

Most recently, the General Assembly passed a law (Act 55) amending Act 211 to include instruction on opioid abuse prevention education in grades 6 through 12 beginning in the 2018-19 school year. The measure includes the involvement of the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs (DDAP) in the development of model curriculum and in-service training for instruction related to the prevention of opioid abuse as well as the currently required instruction in alcohol, chemical and tobacco abuse. While Act 55 makes some improvements to our current school-based drug and alcohol education program, I am introducing legislation amending the Public School Code to further enhance the substance abuse prevention education being offered in our schools.

First, the measure requires schools to use “evidence-based” programs for instruction in alcohol, chemical and tobacco abuse as well as opioid abuse prevention. A program that is “evidence-based” has been rigorously evaluated and shown to work. We need to ensure that the programs being used by our schools are effective and likely to produce positive youth outcomes. The bill provides that the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime & Delinquency (PCCD) and the Evidence-Based Prevention & Intervention Support Center (EPISCenter) at Pennsylvania State University shall work with PDE, DOH and DDAP to compile a list of evidence-based programs for alcohol, chemical and tobacco abuse, including opioid abuse prevention, which a school district may select from to use in their elementary, middle and high school education curriculum.

Second, the PCCD and the EPISCenter shall, in cooperation with PDE, communicate to all school districts how they may be a resource to school districts in helping to implement evidenced-based programs. PCCD supports some evidence-based programs for drug and alcohol education and prevention in schools through their Delinquency Prevention Program state funding stream and the EPISCenter can also provide technical assistance to districts. In addition, the measure provides for the involvement of both agencies in the development of model curriculum, guidelines and in-service training for instruction in the prevention of opioid abuse as well as the currently required instruction in alcohol, chemical and tobacco abuse. Also, both agencies will work with PDE, DOH and DDAP in issuing a report to the General Assembly as required under Act 55 regarding the efforts of the agencies to assist districts with substance abuse instruction and evaluating their effectiveness.

Third, each school district would be required to participate in the Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS) and utilize the results from the survey to help determine which evidence-based programs best address the needs of the students in the district. PAYS is a statewide survey conducted every two years by the PCCD (at no costs to the district) for youth in 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th grade. The survey assesses their behaviors, attitudes and knowledge concerning alcohol, tobacco, other drugs, violence and other problem behavior. It also collects information about risk factors related to these behaviors and about protective factors that guard against them. PAYS also helps to measure if programs are achieving their intended results. The school district and community can benefit from the information gained from PAYS because it allows schools, districts and communities to receive detailed reports and provides communities with a wealth of data that can be used for grant writing, program and school safety planning and targeting prevention and intervention programs to meet a school’s and community’s particular needs. Recognizing that PAYS data can help schools and local communities assess issues facing their youth, identify programming and help in securing funding to utilize evidence-based programs, it’s vital that all schools participate in the PAYS.

Fourth, the measure lowers the grade level for when instruction on opioid abuse prevention would be taught to students from 6th to 3rd grade. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Studies such as the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, formally called the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, reported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, indicate that some children are already abusing drugs at age 12 or 13, which likely means that some begin even earlier.” The NIDA further states that “Studies have also shown that abuse of drugs in late childhood and early adolescence is associated with greater drug involvement.” It is critical that we educate students at a younger age about opioid abuse so that they can make wise choices and avoid using drugs. In addition, the proposal provides that instruction on opioid abuse prevention be a stand-alone unit in the program. Given the heroin and opioid addiction crisis we are facing in the Commonwealth, we need to ensure that this issue is receiving priority attention in an effort to improve student’s awareness and education on the matter.

Finally, the bill requires each school district, under guidance from PDE, DOH and DDAP, to develop and offer outreach programs relating to alcohol, chemical and tobacco abuse, including opioid abuse, for parents or legal guardians of students enrolled in the schools. Under current law, school districts are authorized (may) to develop and offer programs to parents but are not required. Such programs may include educating parents or guardians on recognizing warning signs of substance abuse and providing available resources. In addition, such programs shall be offered at times convenient to parents or guardians.

Introduced as SB1013