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Local Funeral Homes Support Opioid/Heroin Prevention Program

Posted on April 13, 2017

Johnstown, PA (April 11, 2017) – Indiana County ranks fourth in the state for highest drug overdose deaths per 100,000 people, according to a 2016 report from the DEA Philadelphia Field Division. The Rairigh-Bence Funeral Homes in Indiana and Clymer have witnessed the harsh reality of the region’s opioid/heroin epidemic first hand. That is one reason owners David and Jennifer Rairigh are helping to fund delivery of the This is (Not) About Drugs Opioid/Heroin Prevention Education Program to students at Penns Manor High School.

“We have seen a sharp increase in the number of overdose deaths, not just at our funeral home, but in our region, as a whole. We don’t want to see lives cut short, families left to suffer the consequences of addiction,” explained David Rairigh.

Helping young people understand the connection between misuse of prescription pain pills and its direct path to heroin use, addiction and overdose is a core objective of This is (Not) About Drugs. The single, 45-minute lesson comes from a non-profit organization in the state of Indiana called Overdose Lifeline. The founder, a health educator by trade, lost her 20 year old son to a heroin overdose in 2014 and set out to create an impactful, science-based prevention education program that would prevent other young people from going down that road.

“It is critical that we help young people change their attitudes and behaviors about opioids,” explained Justin Phillips, founder and executive director of Overdose Lifeline, Inc. “Heroin use has more doubled among young adults ages 18–25 in the past decade. The CDC has recommended that we ‘address the strongest risk factor for heroin addiction: addiction to prescription opioid painkillers.’ It is imperative for Overdose Lifeline to work with providers across the country such as The Learning Lamp to replicate the opioid prevention program.”

Since October 2016, The Learning Lamp has shared This is (Not) About Drugs with more than 4,700 students in grades 6-12 in 17 schools in Cambria, Somerset and Westmoreland counties with the help of grants and donations. When Jennifer Rairigh learned of the program, she immediately set out to make it available to young people in Indiana County as well.

“Dave and I feel that every responsible community member needs to be aware of the crisis that we’re in here in Indiana County and be willing to step up and to do something,” she said. “For us, we hope that by sponsoring some additional education for students, we can be one small part of saving kids and families from the struggle of addiction.”

Central to This is (Not) About Drugs is a 12-minute peer-to-peer video that features young people in recovery from heroin addiction and who have had family members addicted sharing their personal experiences. The companion PowerPoint and discussion that follows reinforces key points about opioid addiction and the brain, risk of overdose, alternatives to using drugs and the importance of seeking help to save a life. The Learning Lamp began researching the availability of a tested, results-driven heroin prevention curriculum two years ago after being approached by high school administrators seeking heroin-specific prevention education for their students.

“At the time, there was virtually nothing out there that had been tested for results or effectiveness,” explained Lisa Stofko, prevention programs manager for The Learning Lamp. “After reviewing a handful of options, This is (Not) About Drugs emerged as the most promising, both in terms of impact on students and sustainability for the future.”

Pre/post-program surveys demonstrate substantial gains in knowledge among local teenagers. For example, on average, students showed a 48% point increase in knowledge that “Prescription pain pills such as Hydrocodone, Oxycodone and Vicodin are the same type of drug as heroin.” Prior to the program, less than half of participants had a clear understanding of the connection between prescription pain medicines and heroin. Following the program, nearly 9 of 10 students understood that all are opioids and carry the same risks as heroin when misused. Additionally, 87% of students agreed that they were “less likely to abuse prescription pain meds or heroin” as a result of the program.

Rairigh-Bence Funeral Homes hopes to sponsor additional educational programming in other parts of Indiana County as well. In addition to the Rairighs, funding for This is (Not) About Drugs has been provided by UPMC Health Plan, Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, Lee Initiatives, PA Office of Attorney General, JWF Industries, Portage Rotary Club and the Matthew R. Decort Funeral Home.

The Learning Lamp is a nonprofit organization with a mission to engage all children in the support they need to succeed. We deliver high quality programs that are affordable and accessible to families of all income levels. The Learning Lamp served 30,711 children from 57 school districts and 53 non-public and private schools and other organizations in 17 Pennsylvania counties and one county in Maryland in 2015.

Our programs include: one-to-one tutoring; before/after school programs; portable classrooms aimed at building math and science skills; alternative education programs for at-risk students; evidence-based prevention programs; online learning and credit recovery; SAT preparation; educationally-focused child care; literacy-based preschool programs; and grant writing and project consulting for schools.

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