Fighting addiction has been Korey Shorb’s message for years, even before he founded the Up & Out Foundation — a nonprofit that provides financial assistance to recovering drug users.
As a recovering heroin addict, Shorb uses his story as a deterrent to others. He’s now prepared to bring his message to a new audience: Frederick County students.
On Wednesday, Shorb signed an agreement with Frederick County Public Schools to provide presentations on drug and alcohol abuse to middle and high school students. While the Up & Out Foundation is responsible for organizing and financing the speeches, schools will arrange a location for each presentation and make sure that a counselor is available to help students during and after the speeches, said Pam Miller, a coordinator for the Community Agency School Services program at FCPS.
“This is an added component for schools because of the opioid epidemic we’re experiencing,” she said. “We’re just looking for ways for parents and students to recognize the signs and symptoms of addiction.”
Though presentations are optional for schools, both Shorb and FCPS officials hope that they’ll eventually become part of the front-end fight against opioid abuse. Nearly 2 percent of middle school students and a little more than 3 percent of high school students reported having used heroin, according to the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey in Frederick County.
The numbers were even higher for prescription drugs. About 7 percent of middle school students said they had improperly used prescription drugs in the last 30 days before taking the survey, and 9.4 percent of high school students reported the same. The numbers could be even higher, given many students may be reluctant to admit they use drugs and alcohol, said Sean Nicholson, the public outreach coordinator for Up & Out.
“There is a stigma,” said Nicholson, who also overcame an addiction to heroin and continues to share his story with those in recovery. “It took me a long time to even acknowledge I had a problem. Now it’s a common thread that people are using opiate painkillers for fun, and then get hooked on heroin because it’s cheaper and more accessible. I’ve worked with people who started using before they even graduated high school.”
There’s also a growing acknowledgment that it’s better to start prevention efforts early than focus all attention on back-end treatments, such as rehab and medication-based treatment, Nicholson added. Even before signing the partnership with the school system, Shorb shared his story with students at Brunswick, Catoctin and Oakdale high schools. Graduates of Frederick County’s Drug Treatment Court regularly speak to juveniles in the Youthful Offender Program.
All Maryland public schools are also required to develop an opioid-specific curriculum as part of the recent Start Talking Maryland Act, which went into effect at the beginning of July. Because schools can choose whether to host presentations, Miller wasn’t sure if the agreement with Up & Out would fulfill any requirements of the legislation. Regardless, she hoped that most schools would take advantage of the new partnership.
“We’re just trying to spread hope,” she said. “That, and empower people to make good choices.”