It’s not every day U.S. Senator and former N.H. Governor Jeanne Shaheen comes to Lin-Wood School. Just two weeks ago, Senator Shaheen introduced new legislation to Congress aimed at preventing opioid misuse among students and student athletes. Today, she facilitated a panel discussion with other leaders in prevention including our own Nick Nelson (check out http://www.adaptnh.org for more information about prevention at Lin-Wood); Casey Murphy, athletic director at Lin-Wood; Bob Nelson, principal of Lin-Wood; Deb Naro of Communities for Alcohol and Drug Free Youth located in Plymouth; Jeff Hatch, former NFL player with a critical personal story of opioid addiction; Donna Arias who heads up Life of an Athlete; Kim Barnes, athletic director of Plymouth State University; and Peter Cofran, athletic director at Newfound Regional High School and NH Athletic Directors Association president.
According to Senator Shaheen’s official website, “The Student and Student Athlete Opioid Misuse Prevention Act would allow schools, communities, and youth athletic associations in the Granite State and around the country to provide prevention programs to reduce the risk of opioid misuse among students and student athletes. Research shows that students, and student athletes in particular, are at risk of opioid and heroin misuse. Senator Shaheen’s bill is the first major legislative effort to target the youth, high school, and collegiate sports communities across the country in the fight to combat the opioid epidemic.”
Senator Shaheen has been at the forefront of legislation to better support individuals and families battling addiction. She even explained the differences between the process of signing legislation into law and then appropriating the funds, which is currently a struggle in Congress as they are unable to move forward with new programming due to budgetary issues. Money has been appropriated but not been put into practice. Our students’ response when debriefing later, “Well, what has to happen to get the money to where it needs to be?” A great question to ask; I wish I had the right answer.
What seemed to resonate most with our student athletes in attendance was Jeff Hatch’s personal story about not fitting in as young man in high school UNTIL he suddenly became good at sports; then everyone wanted to be his friend. He spoke compassionately and powerfully about abusing alcohol in high school and college and only turned to narcotic pain meds after a serious injury his first year in the NFL after being a third round draft pick by the NY Giants. He believes prevention legislation like Senator Shaheen has introduced could have saved him from himself as a teenager before the power of addiction took hold. He shared he’s been sober now 11 years and they’ve been the best years of life as he has surrounded himself with a caring team of people who support him as a person and not just as an athlete. He emphasized the need for longer term treatment because some people need more time before returning to regular life. “People talk of the ‘slippery slope’ of drug addiction; for me, there was no slippery slope. There was a cliff, and I jumped off.”
Kim Barnes thanked Senator Shaheen for introducing this powerful legislation and pledged to remain vigilant in her role on a college campus, reminding the audience, “This is not a political issue; it’s a human issue.”
Peter Cofran reflected on other student leadership conferences which focused on students’ decision making abilities along with understanding the responsibility we have towards one another as people. He encourages young people to develop their courage in reaching out to help peers; “Better to lose a friendship than a friend.”
Donna Arias discussed the precious balance in the code of conduct for teenagers between holding students accountable for their actions while at the same time providing them with the support they might need.
The audience was filled with a some high school students from Plymouth Regional High School along with Lin-Wood, health care professionals, emergency first responders, and community members for whom this issue is indeed very personal.
Lin-Wood is fortunate to have two individuals, Nick Nelsen and Lynn Tilden, working closely with our students in the area of drug and alcohol prevention. Nick discussed the different prevention curricula used in our K-12 district. Their services are contracted through Adapt.org whose director of over 20 years is Sean O’Brien, now at Profile School. He will be presenting to the North Country superintendents in early June on the Lin-Wood prevention model, as we believe Lin-Wood School sets the standard for the state. This model includes: A Trained Project SUCCESS Counselor, Model ATOD policy, Lifeskills in the elementary school, Project Alert in the middle school, Prime for Life in the high school, YLTA, along with additional community events. Sean reports that the proof is in the YRBS (Youth Risk Behavior Survey) results which show evidence that drug prevention education is working in our North Country schools. He is also very proud of the YLTA curriculum being used throughout the North Country was developed here at Lin-Wood.
Lynn adds, “The most important part prevention is for students to feel they belong, that they have that feeling of being connected. That’s where SAPs (Student Assistance Provider) must really dial in on. Our connection with the students. Students must feel that they can relate with someone, and that connection they have is a healthy one. We must help students feel connected with their peers and their community. That’s what Adapt has been doing for years, and will continue to do as we grow as a non-profit organization. The programs and assistance we offer the students are ones that connect them in a non traditional way; as in going backpacking for a week-end, being put into “family groups” at conferences that includes students from all over the North Country, empowering them to know that they have a voice and that they have a say and can change their school climate.”
Thank you, Senator Shaheen, for coming to our school today and for everyone else working tirelessly to stem the flow of addiction in our world.