The Pittsburgh FBI Office, as part of its Heroin Outreach Prevention and Education Initiative, has launched a pilot program that seeks to educate young people on the dangers of opioids, rather than just continue making arrests.
The program allows students to take ownership of the problem in western Pennsylvania, according to United States Attorney David Hickton.
Hickton said that, unlike in the '80s with the “This is your brain, this is your brain on drugs” campaign, the initiative should meet today’s youth on the platforms they use: social media.
The program worked with students from four local high schools to produce videos highlighting the dangers of opioid addiction in the “Speak Out to Save Lives” public service announcement competition. The videos were posted to YouTube and hashtags were used on Twitter and Facebook to spread awareness.
Participating schools included Burrell High School, Kiski Area High School, Norwin High School and Franklin Regional High School.
“It gives me great hope and optimism that we have such wide and deep support in our community building and community outreach efforts here because we can't solve this problem by law enforcement alone,” said Hickton.
Burrell took first place with their video “Nobody Wins With Heroin.” Emma Hough is a senior at the school and helped produce the video. She said heroin users can be found even in high school.
“They can be anyone that you know and a lot of them are high school students, kids that have good family lives and play sports. Something happens to them and they become addicted to prescription opiates and then it's just kind of this sliding scale that ends really unfortunately for a lot of people,” she said.
Burrell High School’s public service announcement features a fictional high schooler named Meghan who struggled with addiction. Through the use of flashbacks, the viewer finds out that she was injured while playing soccer and was prescribed pain pills. She abused the pills and became dependent, leading her to seek out hard drugs which ultimately resulted in her death.
That video struck a chord with Abbey Zorzi, who dealt with a similar struggle. Currently a junior psychology major at St. Vincent’s College, Zorzi overcame her addiction two and half years ago.
In high school, Zorzi became addicted to prescription narcotics after her wisdom teeth were taken out. Once her body became dependent on the pills, she sought out heroin.
“I would have wanted to be more educated on prescription pain pills because I wasn't, I didn't know anything really about them, I just knew that my mouth wouldn't hurt anymore and that they aren't really for recreational use and it's not a joke whenever you become addicted,” she said.
The HOPE initiative is working to expand its educational outreach in high schools throughout Western Pennsylvania.