GUEST BLOG: Not Even Once... Addressing the Opioid Epidemic — Christa Hyson, Cincinnati Health Department

11/2/2017

By: Guest Blogger

11-2-17.jpgI am not a teacher by profession, but I try my hardest to be a good one. I have great admiration for what classroom teachers do every single day across the world. Whether it was a part of previous positions I’ve had or currently in public health — teaching has always been an integral part of my work. In addition to teaching, I’ve had the opportunity to work with youth on prevention education curriculums ranging from tobacco to communicable disease. None have been as challenging as attempting to address the opioid epidemic.

I don’t claim to have all the answers to solve the opioid epidemic across this country, but I wish I did. It has torn apart families, crumbled portions of our workforce and completely rocked the medical community. This epidemic has no road map. There is no established, evidence-based practice that says if you do “x,” then you will receive “y” as a positive result.

As a public health professional, I try to think of ways to avoid adverse health outcomes. While this sounds oversimplified, prevention is the backbone of public health. Working for the Cincinnati Health Department, I am a witness to the constantly moving pieces of this epidemic — from endless overdose data, to potential policy changes, to Quick Response Teams and resource identification.

Working from different angles on this epidemic, I felt more could be done on the prevention side. I was fortunate to find an organization willing to fund a prevention initiative. My project is entitled Not Even Once. Not Even Once aims to implement the HOPE (Health and Opioid Prevention Education) curriculum at Oyler School. Oyler was strategically selected as a pilot site for HOPE due to the high number of overdoses in the surrounding neighborhood. Prevention curriculums like HOPE are key — key to saving lives, saving resources and most important, preventing youth from ever starting to abuse drugs.

What makes HOPE different is that it is the opposite of most anti-drug programs. It is pro-youth empowerment; pro-good decision-making; pro-self-respect. Kids are told, “No,” enough. This curriculum puts them in the driver’s seat of their own lives. It gives them the tools to use throughout their lives to build resiliency, self-respect and community awareness. It goes beyond basic knowledge, skills, behaviors and attitudes and turns it into functional health knowledge.

A few learning objectives of HOPE are:

  • Understanding the components of healthy, safe and respectful choices;
  • Identifying trusted adults;
  • Knowing how to ask for help; and
  • Understanding the differences between over-the-counter and prescription medicines.
I started teaching HOPE in June 2017 for ages 9-13 and will continue through December. From the moment the project began, I was astounded by the openness of the kids and their profound awareness of this epidemic right on their doorstep. One night a few weeks into class, my phone rang — it was a parent of a child in class, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Again, I was taken aback by her honesty. She stressed how difficult it is as a parent to talk to her children about what’s going on 15 feet from their doorstep. Instead, she tells her kids to “always stay inside” instead of playing at the park across the street.  

Some people have told me that kids in certain drug-ridden parts of town are “lost causes.” I vehemently disagree with this, especially with my kids. Because they have HOPE. I believe in the village. I believe we will overcome this epidemic one day, with people who have rallied together to empower others to fully utilize talents to create a society of empathy.

This project would not be possible without the generosity of the Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, People’s Liberty and especially Dr. Kevin Lorson, Ohio Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance president and professor and Physical Education program director at Wright State University. I am eternally grateful that he was willing to take a chance on me to implement HOPE.

Christa Hyson is the health communication specialist at the Cincinnati Health Department and project grantee for People’s Liberty. She combines her public health skills and youth prevention education to execute, Not Even Once. Click here to learn more about the Hope Curriculum. You can learn more about Christa and her project here.

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