Local opioid education program develops a statewide following

MIDDLEBURY — A program launched last year to teach Addison County teens about the dangers of opioid addiction has become so successful that it has gained statewide attention and will soon be exported to school districts in other parts of Vermont.
It’s called HELP (Heroin Epidemic Learning Program) and uses volunteer experts to clearly explain, educate and enlighten students about how addiction to heroin, prescription painkillers and other opioids is affecting their community.
Co-created and led by nationally renowned actor Jeremy Holm and Regional Prevention Partnership Coordinator Jesse Brooks, HELP is a voluntary, 10-week offering featuring guest speakers from the medical, recovery and law enforcement communities — as well as some folks who have had direct exposure to the physical and emotional ravages of heroin addiction. Participating students break into teams to produce public service announcements to raise awareness about addiction. The winning PSAs earn cash prizes. And this year, members of the Addison County team that wins the PSA contest will receive Chromebook computers, and their school will be awarded funds for prevention, according to Brooks.
In its pilot year, HELP was introduced as an in-class option at Middlebury, Vergennes and Mount Abraham union high schools, noted Brooks.
“We took some time this past summer to iron out some wrinkles as well as discuss the future of HELP,” Brooks said. “We now have workbooks, T-shirts and video equipment for filming PSAs, thanks to donations and a (state) opioid prevention grant that we applied for and received this January.”
HELP this year has expanded into the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center and has also been picked up by Randolph High School, under the sponsorship of Gifford Hospital.
There are currently more than 50 students involved in HELP, according to Brooks.
Meanwhile, Gov. Phil Scott’s Opioid Council has connected Brooks with other schools, such as Champlain Valley Union High School, whose leaders have been looking for drug addiction prevention programming. Brooks added Vermont State Police — through social media and in-person interaction — have proven very helpful and effective in spreading word of HELP throughout the state.
Organizers have been fielding calls from officials in Florida and New York, asking how HELP could be implemented in their respective schools.
“There are still days when I can’t believe it,” she said of the surging popularity of HELP. “We never thought (this level of success) was possible.”
Brooks and Holm are pleased with the interest, but know they won’t be able to personally deliver the program at all of the schools that want it. With that in mind, they’re working on a 40-minute video presentation that will include essential elements of HELP. That video presentation will include input from other volunteers on the HELP team, which includes such folks as Sgt. Matthew Daily and Trooper Brett Flansburg of the state police’s New Haven barracks; Brian Goodyear, an EMT with Vergennes Area Rescue Squad; and Trish Lafayette, a single mom five years into her recovery from opioid addiction. Brooks also shares a personal, powerful story of her own.
Tim Joy, a Middlebury-based film editor, has been key in helping produce the HELP video. He also edits the winning HELP team’s PSA.
“These are all people with busy lives and schedules,” she said of the HELP helpers who give a lot of their time to what is a very important cause.
Organizers are seeing the positive effects HELP is having on student participants.
“We’re seeing students develop an increased comfort level in this very difficult conversation,” Brooks said.
“Kids are becoming empowered by this information.”
More information about HELP — and how to contribute to the effort — can be found at https://www.unitedwayaddisoncounty.org/heroin.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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