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Sheriff Jimmy Combs, left, shakes hands with Dr. Travis Reeves, superintendent of Surry County Schools, this week after getting approval to launch a new D.A.R.E. initiative in the four county middle schools.

DOBSON — The Surry County Board of Education has given approval for the Surry County Sheriff’s Office to implement a new D.A.R.E. program at the middle school level.

Earlier this week, Sheriff Jimmy Combs and Dr. Travis Reeves, superintendent, spoke to the school board about the plans for seventh-graders at the four middle schools in the district.

Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or D.A.R.E., was developed in 1983 by the Los Angeles Police Department because of increasing use of drugs by youth in the 1970s and 1980s. The idea received a boost in 1986 by First Lady Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign to reduce drug use.

The county district approved the D.A.R.E. program for elementary schools in 1990, focusing on the dangers of drugs and emphasizing the need to abstain from all types.

In real life, pre-teens and teens will be confronted with drugs and alcohol, said Combs, and it has become apparent that just telling kids to say no isn’t enough. They need more tools in their toolbox to grasp the situation and figure out the best way to handle things.

In 2009, D.A.R.E. America and Pennsylvania State University collaborated and developed a middle school curriculum called “keepin’ it REAL.”

“REAL stands for Refuse, Explain, Avoid and Leave,” said Combs.

Since 2009, intense evaluation of the curriculum has shown a decrease in substance abuse and reduction in negative attitudes/behaviors while improving positive attitudes/behaviors, according to the sheriff.

In May, Combs approached Reeves with the idea of implementing “keepin’ it REAL.”

The curriculum includes a specific block of instruction on opioid abuse and bullying.

“We have to take a proactive approach to address opioid abuse, and we start by educating our children on the dangers of drug abuse and addiction instead of waiting to use enforcement,” said Combs

The misuse of and addiction to opioids – including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl – is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare, the school system said in a statement.

Current data shows the sobering local impact of the opioid crisis on North Carolina families. In 2015, there were more than 1,100 opioid-related deaths, a 73-percent increase from 2005. In 2013, Surry County emergency services responded to 30 overdoses, which resulted in deaths. In 2014 that number grew to 32 and in 2015, it rose to 43.

“The sheriff has a personal passion about this new program and its instructional strategies for middle school students. This only reemphasizes the collaborative effort between the Surry County Sheriff’s Office and our school system to educate students about the dangers of prescription drugs,” commented Reeves.

The program includes watching videos of teens in simulated real-life situations, and the kids also role-play to put the ideas into practice, said the sheriff.

The modules are about 45 minutes long so that they can fit into a health/P.E. class period, said Chad Hutchens, the SRO officer for Meadowview Middle School.

The kids can learn things like “How can I get out of these situation?” and reacting to those around them, said Hutchens. They learn ways to explain their way out of bad spots, how to avoid those spots in the first place, and coping mechanisms to deal with the peer pressure and daily stresses that may make a student want to try drugs.

If a friend is getting started in drugs, there are ways to help pull that friend back from danger, said Combs. But, the student may also need to recognize when the friend has gone too far and will drag him or her down, too.

The “keepin’ it REAL” curriculum will begin in the next few weeks at Meadowview, Gentry, Central and Pilot Middle Schools. All four middle school resource officers at Surry County Sheriff’s Office have completed the D.A.R.E. instructor course and received 80 hours of specifically relevant training to the curriculum.

Hutchens said the health/P.E. teachers with whom he has spoken have really been on board with the message.

“We cannot arrest our way out of the opioid epidemic,” said Combs. “This D.A.R.E. curriculum will also give SROs personal classroom opportunities to form those life-long bonds of trust and friendship and lay the foundation for the future.”

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