One of last year’s most powerful PSAs about the opioid epidemic came from an unexpected source: three Connecticut teens.
Kyle Citrin, Clay Knibbs and Carter Soboleski learned about Operation Prevention’s video challenge in a video production class at Daniel Hand High School in Madison, Connecticut.
Hard work, big payoff
What started as a class assignment quickly became a passion project of long hours, rewrites and late nights that extended past the completion of the course. It was also an education in the opioid epidemic. “I didn’t realize it was that big of a problem until we started getting into research for the video,” shares Kyle, the film’s director. “We were shocked.”
Their video conveys all-too-real truths about an epidemic that cuts across socioeconomic lines. In the boys’ minute-long PSA, “The Cork Board,” a teenager is pulled away from time with his younger brother because of an addiction to prescription pills. “Life is a collection of memories,” says the narrator. “Using opioids distracts you. They pull you away from what’s important … Don’t let your life get swallowed up by an opioid addiction.”
The power of peer learning
The annual video challenge is part of a joint prevention effort by Discovery Education and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The initiative, called Operation Prevention, is available to every school, home and state in the nation to help fight prescription opioid misuse and heroin use through free to access and easy-to-use educational resources tailored for elementary, middle and high schoolers. The goals, notes Marty Creel, vice president of curriculum and instruction for Discovery Education, are to “inspire teens to research the opioid epidemic, document its widespread impact and spark a social movement that deepens the conversation about this critical issue.”
The video challenge in particular relies on an age-old principle: the power of peer-to-peer learning. “Teens often look to other teens to form their opinions and can help discourage prescription drug abuse before it starts,” explains Creel.
To Kyle, Carter and Clay, that made sense. “Coming from an adult, [messaging about the opioid epidemic] can go in one ear and out of the other,” says Clay, who portrayed the older brother in the film. “They’re just telling you statistics.” “Teens can relate more to hearing a message from other teens,” Kyle adds. “It’s not just adults saying ‘don’t do this.’ It’s a closer relationship.”
A winning message
The challenge also strives for inclusivity by meeting teens on a platform they’re used to — their cell phones. “Students seem to enjoy viewing videos more than texting,” says TJ Salutari, the principal of Daniel Hand High School. “The video challenge allows students to use technology and create a powerful message while using a platform that is of high interest.”
To create a message that would truly impact their peers, the students knew they needed a unique angle. “We had to make it so teens didn’t just see this and think ‘whatever,’” notes Clay. “We had to make it seem like, ‘this could happen to me because I have a sibling,’ or ‘I could do this to my siblings.’ And we learned that it’s not just the siblings who are affected, it’s friends and families, too.”
The “Cork Board” beat out hundreds of submissions to win its creators a first place prize of $10,000. Additionally, it beat out nine other finalists for the People’s Choice Prize, an exclusive tour of the DEA Training Academy.
When teens engage with one another on difficult topics, they have the power to send waves across an entire student body that resisting drugs is what’s truly cool. “In addition to several of their family members, more than 600 students attended an assembly where the results were announced,” recalls Salutari. “The audience was electric. Kyle, Clay and Carter received a well-deserved standing ovation that lasted for several minutes.”
You can get involved and take the pledge to prevent opioid misuse today at OperationPrevention.com.