Seven University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) students are shining a light on the growing problem of prescription drug abuse in area high schools.
On April 30, the students, part of the university’s inaugural community leadership class, presented a multi-pronged approach for raising awareness within the community.
The group’s semester-long project consists of a Facebook page, a multi-colored brochure, a presentation in conjunction with the Van Buren High School (VBHS) drama department, and a tagged public service announcement hosted on regional television stations, all designed to reach out to parents, children, and the community-at-large.
Students in the group are Meagan Bowling, Jodie Bradshaw, Patrick Upchurch (all Fort Smith), Casey Price (Roland, Okla.), Thai-Hoc Nguyen (Greenwood), Travis Holmes (Owasso, Okla.), and Dennis Reynolds (Van Buren).
In attendance at the group’s Monday presentation were Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders, Williams/Crawford and Associates CEO Fred Williams, and former Western Arkansas Planning and Development District (WAPDD) Economic Development Director Rusty Myers.
Williams and Myers served as advisors to the students during the program, which consisted of the following mission: choose a cause, develop a goal for meeting that cause, and implement an action plan.
But according to Williams, the students quickly took over.
“We (Williams and Myers) wanted to give them a direction to go, and we did. And they saw all our suggestions, and were nice and polite, and said, ‘Well, we don’t want to do that.’ And that was the first sign of leadership they showed,” Williams said.
Myers laughed. “They politely rejected all our ideas and moved to the area they were interested in.”
According to Upchurch, each of them had been affected in some way by prescription drug use.
“A lot of friends from high school destroyed their lives with prescription drugs. While we all went to college, they stayed back and kept taking pills. Everyone we talked to during this project could relate in some way — either they were struggling with this problem or knew someone who was,” Upchurch said.
The group cited numbers from the Arkansas Needs Assessment Survey that “one in five high school seniors has tried prescription drugs (for recreational use) at one point in their high school career,” and that “two of five students” (40%) believe prescription drug use is safer than illegal drugs, a perception they hope to change even after graduation.
Bowling said she would “work closely” with the VBHS drama team to develop a skit for performance for the fall 2012 semester, and Upchurch indicated the group hopes to continue building enthusiasm for the project in the coming months with the hope that “after we’re finished, there will be someone out there, who wants to keep it going.”