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Portage Rotary, Funeral Home Team Up To Fund Heroin Prevention Program

Posted on April 18, 2017

Johnstown, PA (April 14, 2017) – Cambria County remains tied for third in the state for highest drug overdose deaths per 100,000 people, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Nearly 100 people died of opioid-related overdoses in 2016, and to date in 2017, the Cambria County Coroner’s office has investigated 23 overdoses, the vast majority of which tested positive for Fentanyl. The Matthew R. Decort Funeral Home in Portage has witnessed the harsh reality of the region’s opioid/heroin epidemic first hand. That is one reason it helped to fund delivery of the This is (Not) About Drugs Opioid/Heroin Prevention Education Program to students in grades 6-8 at Portage Area School District.

“I want the youth of our community to know and understand that no matter the individual’s age, family upbringing/background and race and ethnicity, we all have the risk of being affected,” said Matt Decort, owner of the funeral home. “They need to be made aware and identify possible reasons as to why a person turns to or abuses drugs, and they need to be able to understand and become aware of what resources are available to them to seek help, whether it is for themselves, a friend, or even possibly their parent.”

Developed by a health educator and mother who lost her son to a heroin overdose in 2014, This is (Not) About Drugs is a science-based, outcomes-driven program designed to prevent first use of drugs by clearly defining the path to and risks of opioid addiction, overdose and death. Decort’s recent donation, coupled with initial contributions from the Portage Rotary Club and Senior Cooking Staff for the Portage Rotary, made This is (Not) About Drugs possible for 384 students in grades 6-12.

“We saw a need for education due to the increase in drug usage and overdose deaths,” explained Charlie Rimini, president of the Portage Rotary Club. “The program was beneficial to educate students at a younger age so they realize not to use drugs now and later on in life.”

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. Trained facilitators from The Learning Lamp worked with Portage Area School District to deliver the 45-minute This is (Not) About Drugs session classroom by classroom over the course of three months to ensure every middle and high school student had an opportunity to take part in the interactive lesson.

“We were very pleased with the program. The information was relevant and hopefully provided some positive decision-making strategies for our students to lead a drug-free life,” explained Mary Ann George, guidance counselor at Portage Area High School. “The message being presented was very clear regarding the current epidemic we are facing across this nation.”

Pre/post-program surveys at Portage demonstrated substantial gains in knowledge among participating youth. 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, 9 of 10 students understood that all are opioids and carry the same risks as heroin when misused. Additionally, 88% of students agreed that they were “less likely to abuse prescription pain meds or heroin” as a result of the program.

Since October 2016, The Learning Lamp has shared This is (Not) About Drugs with 4,981 students in grades 6-12 in 21 public and non-public schools in Cambria, Somerset, Indiana and Westmoreland counties at no cost to schools with the help of grants and donations. In addition to the Portage Rotary Club and its senior cooking staff and the Matthew R. DeCort Funeral Home, funding for This is (Not) About Drugs was provided by UPMC Health Plan, Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, Lee Initiatives, PA Office of Attorney General, JWF Industries, the Rairigh-Bence Funeral Homes and a private donor.

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 36,340 children from 55 school districts and 22 non-public and private schools and other organizations in 16 Pennsylvania counties and one county in Maryland in 2016.

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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