FL’s First Lady announces school assemblies, toolkits, to warn kids about fentanyl, other drugs

‘Just Say No,’ in the 80s has moved on to ‘Just Say No, but here’s why,’ Casey DeSantis says in 2022

By: - January 15, 2022 7:00 am

First Lady Casey DeSantis discussed earlier efforts to curtail drug and alcohol abuse among kids on Jan. 14, 2022. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

Nancy Ackerman, a mother in Seminole County, joined First Lady Casey DeSantis at a roundtable discussion this week and relayed the story of her 19-year-old daughter overdosing on fentanyl and dying.

“I don’t even call it a drug. I just call it a poison,” Ackerman said. “Too many people I know have lost their children now to fentanyl, specifically.”

For all the moms, dads and family members who have felt the pain of drug abuse and death, the Thursday roundtable this week highlighted efforts to try to stop the scourge, starting in Florida schools.

First Lady DeSantis announced a new toolkit and public messaging campaign to educate students on the dangers of drug use.

“Back in the day when we were in school, it was ‘Just Say No,’” DeSantis said. “This is really the ‘Just say no, but here’s why.’”

The initial “Just Say No” campaign is a reference to a 1980’s era education campaign pushed by then U.S. First Lady Nancy Reagan, who died in 2016. Other programs aimed to curtail drug use among kids, such as the D.A.R.E. program (Drug Abuse Resistance Education).

Casey DeSantis has been pushing a statewide drug education initiative for some time, called “The Facts. Your Future,” which focuses on what the First Lady calls “prevention services” to “empower the kids with facts to make to make the right decisions as it pertains to drug usage.”

“Now we’re really starting to get the momentum and get some really good results for what we knew back then was the right thing to do,” she said.

She was joined by Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, who discussed how juvenile drug use can impact the development of young brains.

“Teens and children who are exposed to drugs are more likely to develop addictions when they are adults,” Ladapo noted.

The Ron DeSantis administration has taken other steps to curtail drug use among kids, such as adopting new standards that require Florida schools to provide instruction on drug use and abuse education in grades K-12.

The roundtable highlighted new “t00lkits” of curriculum to schools for free to give information about drugs.

The toolkit provides a fact sheet about different kinds of drugs and their effects, resources for where to get help if someone is struggling with addiction, and other information.

For example, the toolkit discusses opioids, noting that while it is a drug that can be obtained legally with a prescription, such doses can still lead to addiction.

The toolkit pulls information from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which notes that opioids were involved in over 70 percent of drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2019.

The toolkit also provides a “conversation map,” which attempts to refocus common perceptions kids may have about drugs and alcohol and help students have “difficult” conversations with their friends or online.

Another aspect to the program is to have educational assemblies on the effects of drugs, in which children would gather in their schools and hear from different perspectives about how drugs can impact their health, their life plans, and other consequences.

Some of these speakers could include medical professionals discussing the biological effects of drugs on the body, law enforcement officers outlining the legal repercussions of getting caught with drugs, and first hand testimonies of how drugs have impacted people’s lives.

This is where people like Nancy Ackerman come in, and others who have lost loved ones to drug overdoses.

Ackerman said that her daughter’s issues started with “a little problem with alcohol” and even went to rehab for it.

“And a couple months later, we don’t know exactly how she met the people, but she wound up meeting some people who introduced her to heroin, which turned out to be pure fentanyl and she overdosed and died,” Ackerman said.

Alton Voss, who wanted to play for the NFL, a dream which was derailed when he developed an addiction to opioids, as he struggled with pressures and expectations when he attended college. He also spoke at the Thursday roundtable.

“I started suffering in silence. And then this weekend ‘fun’ started spilling into the weekdays until it became an addiction. And I eventually quit the team and quit football,” Voss said. His addiction continued for years after that, getting prescribed Oxycontin and Roxicodone from a doctor.

He started getting treatment for his addiction in 2011, which he said is the last time he’s used.

These kinds of stories are the ones Casey DeSantis wants to highlight in these school assemblies.

The roundtable folded in some messaging from Gov. Ron DeSantis’s administration about undocumented immigrants and foreign countries bringing drugs into Florida communities.

“The drugs are flowing in faster and faster than ever before,” Casey DeSantis said. “The crisis at the boarder has led to a massive influx of narcotics, such as fentanyl.”

Coincidentally, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody sent out a press release earlier this week, which called on the Biden administration to “take a tougher approach to stemming the influx of deadly fentanyl into Florida and the nation as a whole.”

She joined 15 other state attorneys general in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, which urges him to take “immediate steps to stem the fentanyl scourge coming from China and Mexico.”

“Our federal government cannot sit idly by as China ships chemicals to produce highly lethal fentanyl to Mexico to funnel it into our country,” Moody said in the Thursday press release about the letter. “Today, I’m calling on Secretary Blinken and the U.S. Department of State to crack down on both countries, who have formed an international triangle of death where thousands of pounds of deadly opioid drugs are flooding into our streets. This must end, now.”

The press release cites data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Medical Examiner’s report, which outlines what drugs were present in a person’s system at the time of death or which drugs led to a person’s death in 2020.

The report notes that out of some 243,000 deaths in Florida in 2020, 14,700 people had drugs in their system at the time of death.

The drug that caused the most deaths was fentanyl, which led to deaths of 5,302 people. The report said  cocaine was the second most deadly drug in that time period, with 2,400 deaths.

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University, majoring in English with a focus in editing, writing, and media. While at FSU, she served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine, Nomadic Noles. Last fall, she fulfilled another editorial internship with Rowland Publishing, where she wrote for the Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 850 Business Magazine. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat. She spends her downtime traveling to all corners of Florida and beyond to practice lindy hop.