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Schools, State Warn Wisconsin Students about the Dangers of Heroin

Cassie Medved, Whitefish Bay High School

With dozens of young people dying every year of heroin overdoses, the Dept. of Justice is mailing packets of materials to high schools to educate students.

Whitefish Bay High School Principal Bill Henkle discovered the packet in his mailbox two days ago. He describes one eye-catching message, written in bold white letters on a black background.

“This one says ‘house party -- hocking mom’s jewelry.’ You know, I guess the point is once you’re hooked you’ll stop at nothing to get your next fix.”

Henkle says he’ll pass the materials along to the health teacher. She covers drug and alcohol prevention in her mandatory health class for ninth graders. Henkle says it’s the only place Whitefish Bay High provides formal anti-drug education. Yet he says all students know the school won’t tolerate drugs.

“This might be a kid never been in trouble for anything, and all the sudden wow, they’re getting suspended from their athletic team, they’re being removed from National Honor Society. So when those things have happened, it’s gotten a lot of attention, you know, and the school newspaper’s done a good job of covering that.”

Schools throughout Wisconsin take different approaches when it comes to drug and alcohol prevention, according to Steve Fernan. He’s assistant director with the Student Services team at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

“Some are meeting the very minimum standards of embedding some alcohol and drug education into their one required health course. I think others are still trying to provide a comprehensive approach.”

Fernan says for years, thousands of elementary and middle school students passed through the DARE program. Police officers would present classes with facts about drugs, and teach strategies for resisting peer pressure.

“At the end of the program there would be a graduation ceremony, with oftentimes many of the dignitaries in the community – the mayor, the police chief, principal, superintendent of the school -- all congratulating, while the kids got their certificate of graduation.”

And sometimes a t-shirt or Frisbee.

But Fernan says educators began losing interest in DARE about a decade ago, in the wake of reports that it didn’t change student behavior. Around 2000, the federal government began funding a prevention curriculum, but those dollars dried up; so did state funding.

“There is very, very little public funding going into those kinds of programs, so what schools are doing, they may be cobbling together themselves, or using the remnants of programs they purchased when they had grants.”

Now a grant from the state justice department is helping fund a new anti-drug effort, in the Green Bay area. Teachers, parents, police and others have formed the Brown County Heroin Initiative. Ed Dorff is the coordinator, and a former high school principal. He says heroin killed two students from the high school he led, and has slammed many other families.

“Talking to people who work within the schools, again, you don’t have to go too far without hearing about somebody who’s having problems at home because of a family member who’s addicted and they’re stealing from the family, or has gone to jail because of getting in trouble. It’s just insidious.”

Dorff says the Brown County campaign also will focus on teaching more adults about the dangers of heroin. It is highly addictive and often deadly. He says too many parents have not yet realized the scope of the threat.

Ann-Elise Henzl became News Director in September 2017.
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