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A revamped D.A.R.E. program will return to North Haven public schools, but this program will go beyond teaching to just say no.

Previously, the program targeted fifth-grade students, but this one will be presented at North Haven Middle School, to a population that has been determined to be most vulnerable, officials said.

The revamped program will concentrate on the dangers of opioids and heroin, First Selectman Michael Freda said, in light of what health officials have termed an epidemic of overdoses and oftentimes, deaths. In North Haven, there have been several people who died after overdosing, and even more who have recovered after being administered Narcan, which blocks the effects of opioids and often will reverse an overdose.

Years ago, resident Larry Lazeroff, one of the owners of Arnold’s Jewelers on Washington Avenue, spearheaded the D.A.R.E. program, Freda said, and now he’s heading the updated program.

“We have looked to really understand how things have changed through the last couple of decades,” Freda said. “For the D.A.R.E. program, we saw locally, regionally and nationally, that the statistics indicated that in the fifth-grade, it did not have a long-lasting impression on kids. Our study showed that children are most vulnerable in the middle school, seventh- and eighth-grade in particular, when they are most vulnerable to these insidious temptations of substance abuse.”

So this program is designed to target middle school children and parents to make them aware of some of the problems existing in today’s society, Freda said. The North Haven Substance Abuse Council, headed by Nancy Leddy, is sponsoring the program, he said.

“We are targeting now on a more concentrated approach to prevent children from succumbing to these temptations,” Freda said.

“We were excited to get the program back in the school system because we felt it was necessary,” Lazaroff said. “We try to be proactive in this community, so we pushed the envelope and made it happen.”

The program began in 1990 in the elementary school, Lazaroff said. “While it was useful for its time period, it became outdated for the current concerns that we have, and that’s why we modified the program to be more appropriate for today’s situations,” he said. “We are hoping it accomplishes an awareness to not only the children, but also the parents, to the situations we all face today. We read about it quite often, unfortunately, and we don’t want it to be a surprise to anybody.”

It’s better to teach children the dangers of substances such as opioid and heroin rather than sweep it under the rug and hope they aren’t tempted to try them, he said.

“We figure that better-educated people make better decisions and that is the premise to this whole program,” he said. “So it’s not just basically a textbook kind of program but it’s actually a series of four presentations where people who have solid information, who have solid experiences, both good and bad, and relate to the community as to what’s out there, how we can avoid it, and if we have a situation, how we can help each other to get out of the situation.”

They’re confident the program will be effective, Lazaroff said, and they hope other communities will consider instituting similar programs.

“We hope other communities follow suit, and we would be happy to engage in conversation for anyone who would like to see what we did and the process,” he said. “Of course, these programs are always subject to modification and review because things change rapidly unfortunately and we have to be on top of it.”

This article by Kate Ramunni (New Haven Register) was published on Post-Chronicle.

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