The Columbus Dispatch - - Front Page - To learn more about LifeTown Colum­bus, go to­town­colum­ jvi­viano@dis­ @JoAn­neVi­viano

What he had dis­cov­ered was his re­flec­tion.

The in­ter­ac­tion was part of a new “Stop to Live” sub­stance-abuse-preven­tion pro­gram at LifeTown Colum­bus, an in­door vil­lage in New Al­bany de­signed to teach life skills to spe­cial­needs stu­dents who visit from dis­tricts around the state.

Launched in March in part­ner­ship with Colum­bus City Schools, Stop to Live is be­ing touted by its cre­ators and other ad­vo­cates as the first in the United States to ad­dress sub­stance-abuse preven­tion for spe­cial-needs chil­dren. Plans are to roll it out na­tion­ally next year.

De­vel­op­ers say it was born out of the dev­as­ta­tion and suf­fer­ing caused by the opi­oid epi­demic and the recog­ni­tion that spe­cial­needs peo­ple are more at risk but are often over­looked when it comes to preven­tion strate­gies.

“There is a fire rag­ing. There is an in­ferno con­sum­ing in­no­cent lives, pre­cious young lives, and some­thing needs to be done,” said Rabbi Areyah Kalt­mann, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Lori Schot­ten­stein Chabad Cen­ter, where LifeTown Colum­bus is housed.

In 2016, an av­er­age of 175 Amer­i­cans, in­clud­ing 12 in Ohio, died each day from drug over­doses, ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion. Two-thirds of those deaths in­volved opi­oids. The num­ber of over­dose deaths has in­creased an­nu­ally since at least 1999, when there was an av­er­age of 46 per day, of which 47 per­cent were opi­oid-re­lated. Pre­lim­i­nary data show that the death toll con­tin­ued to rise in 2017, av­er­ag­ing 186 deaths a day — 14 in Ohio — re­ported so far for the 12 months through Sept. 30, 2017.

Peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties are more at risk for sub­stance abuse, ac­cord­ing to stud­ies ref­er­enced by Shau­nacy Web­ster, Chabad House's chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer and cur­ricu­lum co-au­thor. She said this is be­cause they might dis­pro­por­tion­ately ex­pe­ri­ence de­pres­sion and fam­ily trauma and might come to rely on pre­scribed med­i­ca­tions.

The six lessons of the pro­gram are spread through­out the school year and in­clude ac­tiv­i­ties for the class­room and at LifeTown, where stu­dents par­tic­i­pate in one-on-one, hands-on ac­tiv­i­ties with fa­cil­i­ta­tors. A key fac­tor is build­ing self-es­teem, Kalt­mann said.

“If they have self-es­teem and if they have self-worth, it just makes sense,” he said. “If I have a Rolls-Royce, why would I go break the win­dows? If I’m valu­able, if I have some­thing of im­por­tance, why would I ruin that?”

Lessons also ad­dress is­sues such as the dif­fer­ence be­tween healthy and un­healthy choices, iden­ti­fy­ing trusted adults, pre­scrip­tion-med­i­ca­tion aware­ness, mak­ing good choices and re­sist­ing out­side pres­sures.

Each les­son in­cludes a “spark” item given to chil­dren to help foster dis­cus­sion with fam­ily mem­bers. The first is a com­pact mir­ror stamped “I am spe­cial.”

In the end, chil­dren don capes and take home a su­per­hero punch card show­ing the com­ple­tion of each step in the pro­gram. Xavier, a fifth-grader at Oak­land Park Al­ter­na­tive El­e­men­tary School, is among the roughly 1,000 Colum­bus chil­dren par­tic­i­pat­ing in the pro­gram.

“De­pend­ing on what their dis­abil­ity is — which may be phys­i­cal, it may be cog­ni­tive — they are just so vul­ner­a­ble to be­ing ex­ploited, so we want to give them some tools,” said Kate King, di­rec­tor of health and com­mu­nity ser­vices at Colum­bus City Schools.

The ini­tia­tive has gained sup­port from a num­ber of other ed­u­ca­tors, spe­cial­needs ad­vo­cates and elected of­fi­cials.

Susan Zel­man, an ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at the Ohio De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, vis­ited LifeTown last Mon­day and re­marked that Stop to Live em­pow­ers Kate King, di­rec­tor of health and com­mu­nity ser­vices at Colum­bus City Schools. youths to take con­trol of their lives and ad­vo­cate for them­selves.

“I would love to see this be­come a na­tional model,” said Zel­man, a for­mer state su­per­in­ten­dent. “We need to repli­cate this.”

Tracy Plouck, di­rec­tor of the Ohio De­part­ment of Men­tal Health & Ad­dic­tion Ser­vices, called the ef­fort in­no­va­tive, rev­o­lu­tion­ary and des­per­ately needed for a pop­u­la­tion that has not pre­vi­ously been specif­i­cally ad­dressed. “I see this as an op­por­tu­nity to study the long-term ef­fects and help in­form some change through­out the coun­try,” Plouck said.

The 2018 bud­get for the pro­gram is $200,000, in­clud­ing prepa­ra­tions for a na­tional launch, with a com­bined $31,000 com­mit­ted by the Al­co­hol, Drug and Men­tal Health Board of Franklin County (ADAMH) and the county Board of Devel­op­men­tal Dis­abil­i­ties.

In­ter­est has come from ed­u­ca­tors around Ohio as well as in Kentucky, West Vir­ginia and Ver­mont. It took $86,000 in time and ma­te­ri­als to de­velop the pro­gram last year, Web­ster said; $20,000 came from do­na­tions and the rest from LifeTown.

“If one child is for­ti­fied with the skills not to crum­ble in the face of peer pres­sure, then that's a suc­cess,” Kalt­mann said of the ex­pense. “This is go­ing to be hun­dreds upon hun­dreds of thou­sands of lives we’re go­ing to save, but for one life, we’d do it.”

Stop to Live ad­dresses a group of chil­dren who should not be for­got­ten in the fight against sub­stance abuse, said David Royer, the county ADAMH's chief ex­ec­u­tive.

“I was en­cour­aged to see them ap­pre­ci­ate the fact that ev­ery child is ca­pa­ble of learn­ing im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion as it re­lates to po­ten­tial mis­use,” he said.

Jed Mori­son, chief ex­ec­u­tive and su­per­in­ten­dent at the Devel­op­men­tal Dis­abil­i­ties board, be­lieves Stop to Live has the po­ten­tial to de­velop into a best prac­tice.

“Kids who might have spe­cial needs or learn­ing chal­lenges might need a lit­tle ex­tra guid­ance in terms of mak­ing good choices,” Mori­son said.

The Ohio State Univer­sity Col­lege of So­cial Work will eval­u­ate the first year of the pro­gram to de­ter­mine whether chil­dren re­tain knowl­edge. Stu­dents will be asked a se­ries of ques­tions be­fore and af­ter their doc­tor vis­its, said Christy Kranich, re­search-project co­or­di­na­tor at the col­lege.

“The col­lege over­all is re­ally com­mit­ted to look­ing at the opi­oid is­sue on mul­ti­ple fronts,” she said.

Stop to Live also re­ceived some ini­tial re­search as­sis­tance from the Ohio Col­leges of Medicine Gov­ern­ment Re­source Cen­ter housed at Ohio State, where di­rec­tor Lorin Ran­bom said there are many preven­tion pro­grams for young adults, but noth­ing geared to­ward those who are in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­abled.

“In­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­abled pa­tients are at a dis­ad­van­tage,” he said. “And they need to be given as many tools as they can ab­sorb to deal with the is­sues of daily life.”

“De­pend­ing on what their dis­abil­ity is — which may be phys­i­cal, it may be cog­ni­tive — they are just so vul­ner­a­ble to be­ing ex­ploited, so we want to give them some tools.”


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