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Dec 9, 2015 12:00 AM

Landrigan: Task force aims for drug education at every grade level in NH public schools

CONCORD - New Hampshire's Opioid Task Force is facing more than a few challenges.

Laying out the challenge facing the Opioid Task Force was Marty Boldin, chairman of Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

"But the bottom line is that we are bring a knife to a gunfight here," Boldin said. "We do not have enough resources to meet the need we have out there right now.''

"Our children are dying at a rate we’ve never seen," Jayson Pratt, New England clinical director for the Phoenix House, said. "So I think it warrants its own separate program and it warrants its mandated time because it’s that serious of an issue.’’

Health care professionals and law enforcement agree drug education must be taught at every grade in all public schools.

"We need to educate our kids at an early age so that we can avoid what’s happening out there right now,’’ State Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, said.

The chairman of the House Education Committee questioned if requiring two hours a year in lower grades and four hours in upper grades is micromanaging.

"Now we’re starting to get in that direction again where we are requiring two hours of this, four hours of that depending on the grade level,’’ State Rep. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill and a retired school principal, said.

State education rules do require that alcohol and drug abuse be part of the curriculum, and a leading educator says local control dictates what each district does.

"They say what’s appropriate for them based on the data they have in front of them,’’ Mary Steady, director of the Office of Student Wellness at the Department of Education, said.

Another task force member says if not now, then when?

"Now is the time to mandate drug education instead of allowing everybody to just do what they want to do,’’ Sen. Bette Lasky, D-Nashua, said.

In New Hampshire, teens drink alcohol at the highest rate in the nation, marijuana use is second, heroin and illegal prescription soaring and ER admissions for overdoses have quadrupled.

A school boards administrator insisted schools already do this.

"I don’t think it’s something they are ignoring,’’ said Dean Michener, associate director for the New Hampshire School Boards Association. "I think they take it very seriously.’’

Bedford Police Chief John Bryfanski said the risk of doing nothing is too high.

"I see that we are approaching yet again a verge of losing yet another generation of young people to drug abuse,’’ Bryfanski said.

The panel embraces this cause after removing the hourly requirement and they recommend it be part of the fast-track bills that lawmakers approve in late January.

You could see the Opioid Task Force tiptoeing through the political minefield making sure not to step on a new mandate that could cause this bill to explode.

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