Over the last 18 months, Project ALERT staff have been working to develop material on opioids that would be relevant for the times and would resonate with young students. Given the current opioid epidemic we are experiencing in the United States, the consensus among researchers, educators, clinicians, and public health officials is that drug prevention education programming in 2018 should include a focus on opioids. Additional support for the new addition to the curriculum stems from the fact that prescription pain medication is the most common gateway drug to heroin.
We knew that developing a new core component would be quite an undertaking. Although it is a time-sensitive topic, we felt it necessary to carefully review the current research literature on youth prevention of opioid misuse and craft a research- and theory-informed module that was consistent with the overall theme and structure of Project ALERT. Familiar elements of student-involved lecture, roleplays, homework, and informational handouts comprise the lesson.
The lesson was pilot tested in several classrooms in the spring of 2018 to obtain facilitator, student, and teacher feedback. Based on some excellent comments we received, we made some refinements to ensure that that lesson is engaging and appropriate for the target audience of Project ALERT. However, given the urgency of prescription drug misuse by youth and the increasing number of deaths related to opioid use disorder, we believe it is prudent and most responsible to release this lesson now, prior to subjecting the lesson to the same rigorous evaluation that the original Project ALERT curriculum received. Such randomized controlled trials are infrequent in the school-based drug prevention world, but are nonetheless necessary. Though we plan to include this lesson within the larger Project ALERT curriculum as part of a large research study in which we again evaluate the effectiveness of Project ALERT on preventing youth substance use, we encourage educators to use this lesson during the present school year, alongside the other evidence-based lessons included in the full Project ALERT program
The new lesson (Alternate Lesson 8) and all supplementary materials are available