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Connecticut launching new school-based center to prevent substance misuse by children, teens

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Drug Enforcement Agency
An authentic lethal dose of fentanyl is displayed on the point of a No. 2 pencil for size reference.

Connecticut is launching a school-based center aimed at preventing substance use disorder among children and teens.

When launched, the program will allow a team of consultants to travel to schools across the state to help educate children and teens about the dangers of substance misuse.

Data from the state Department of Public health show that 86% of the 1,524 overdose deaths in 2021 were caused by fentanyl, and 6% of all overdose deaths occurred in the 25-and-under age group.

“We saw the need for a centralized space for schools and families in the community to access information around school-based prevention,” said Bianca Irizarry, a consultant at the State Education Resource Center (SERC), which will set up and operate the program.

Irizarry spoke last Wednesday on Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live.

While the program is still being developed, SERC is seeking input from educators statewide. The agency said it planned to send a survey to Connecticut school districts on Monday, Oct. 24, to gather data on mental health, socio-emotional learning, and prevention programs already in place in order to assess gaps.

“We’re capturing and creating a big picture of what our statewide efforts around prevention looks like so that our SERC, and the Center – we can then better assist the schools by knowing what that looks like,” said Irizarry, coordinator of the School-Based Center for Prevention, Education and Advocacy.

She said SERC plans to develop custom solutions for each school based on its demographics and community needs. That, she said, will make it different from the national D.A.R.E campaign in the 1980s.

Schools will tap into SERC’s Substance Misuse Prevention & Social-Emotional Learning Library Collection and build upon existing programs.

The center is an extension of SERC’s collaboration with the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services under a 2018 grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and “will help schools connect to what they need before the next crisis,” said Ingrid M. Canady, executive director of SERC.

Sujata Srinivasan is a Senior Producer for 'Where We Live,' the flagship news-based, call-in talk show from Connecticut Public Radio, featuring deep dives at the intersection of data-driven narrative and investigative long-form journalism. She's also an editor for the Connecticut Public newsroom.