Preventing substance abuse with outreach projects

Chapter Report

To celebrate American Pharmacists Month in October, students at the Marshall University School of  Pharmacy, a newly established school in Huntington, WV, were given the initiative to create service and outreach projects that promote pharmacy awareness within the community.
I have always had a passion for working with children, and over the last few years, have developed a love for teaching about prescription drug abuse prevention. Through volunteering with an organization called Cabell County Substance Abuse Prevention Partnership (CCSAPP), I made a connection with Michelle Perdue, the organization’s project coordinator. Perdue counsels middle and high school students about important topics such as drinking and driving, illegal substance abuse, and prescription drug abuse, focusing on prevention. I explained that I wanted to create a poster contest to make students think about these important topics and learn why it is important to avoid such dangerous choices. Perdue then helped create a partnership with CCSAPP, our school of pharmacy, The Herald Dispatch, a local Huntington newspaper, and the Huntington Mall to make this poster contest a reality.
The power of influences
“Above the Influence” was the theme chosen for the poster contest, based on the “Above the Influence” national drug abuse prevention program. Part of the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the program strives to teach students to recognize the power of influences, both positive and negative. Using the ideas of the “Above the Influence” program created the perfect opportunity for student pharmacists to reach out to the youth in our area.
To reach students at a pivotal age when education about substance abuse prevention is important, chapter members designed the contest for students in grades 5 through 12. Students were required to incorporate the “Above the Influence” logo into a poster that showed how they avoided substance abuse. In late September, student pharmacists traveled to elementary and middle schools to promote the contest, and speak with principals and teachers about the importance of teaching this concept to their students and the value of this age group’s participation. 
More than 100 entries from students within the county were collected at the beginning of October. A total of 23 posters were chosen as first place or runners-up. Student pharmacists had the privilege of viewing the 5th-grade entries and choosing one winner from five of the elementary schools. Poster themes from the 5th-grade level ranged from family, friends, and religion to tractors, sports, and animals. This variety truly demonstrated the innocence of our youth and reinforced why it is so important to reach out now. Middle and high school students reviewed their peers’ posters and chose their winner and runner-up by grade. 
Community pride
Once the contest winners were chosen, the students, along with their families and teachers, were invited to the Marshall campus for a reception and awards ceremony. Special guests were Marshall University President Stephen Kopp and Chief Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Menis Ketchum. A photographer with The Herald Dispatch photographed the winners individually with their poster and certificate as they were announced.
The overall winner, a sophomore in high school, had her poster printed on the front page of the newspaper. All of the poster entries were showcased at the Huntington Mall for 10 days.
It was so exciting to see the pride on each of the students’ faces as their parents, siblings, and peers looked upon them. My hope was that this event instilled a sense of pride that will empower each of them to continue to recognize and be aware of the influences around them.