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Kentucky City Turns to Smartphone App to Keep Kids Off Drugs

Lexington, Ky., and the nonprofit Preventum Initiative are teaming up to launch a new smartphone application for opioid education and prevention aimed at 75,000 Fayette County youth under the age of 18.

Shutterstock/Darwin Brandis
(TNS) — Devine Carama knows Lexington, Ky., kids are being approached about drugs and drug use nearly every day.

“It’s rampant,” said Carama, a father of two teenage girls, a hip hop artist and local activist. When his daughters meet new friends, some of the first questions they are asked is “Do you do drugs? Do you smoke?”

That’s why Carama is teaming up with the city of Lexington and nonprofit Preventum Initiative to launch a new smartphone application for opioid education and prevention aimed at 75,000 Fayette County youth under the age of 18.

Called FEND, “Full Energy, No Drugs,” the app gives youth information about opioids, drugs and substance abuse disorders.

“It’s focused on education. It does not preach,” Dr. Jacquii Burgess said during a news conference Monday at city hall in Lexington.

The free app rewards youth for answering questions on the application with gift vouchers, concert tickets and other stuff.

“Understanding what an opioid is, why they’re so addictive, and how to recognize and respond to an opioid overdose can potentially save a life,” Burgess said. “We are thrilled to bring FEND to Lexington. “

During her campaign for mayor in 2018, Mayor Linda Gorton pledged to make opioid addiction and substance abuse a centerpiece of her administration. Prevention is a key piece of any strategy, she said Monday.

“Teaching young people about the dangers of addiction, opioids and prescription drugs better equips them to handle situations, helps arm them with useful tools and hopefully deters them from use of illicit or non-prescribed drugs,” Gorton said.

But funding for drug prevention efforts is scarce. FEND is funded through private donations, grants and corporate sponsorships. The William R. Kenan Charitable Trust is one of the first major financial supporters of Lexington’s FEND campaign, said Andrea James, who coordinate’s Gorton’s opioid and substance abuse efforts.

James said the city will host a substance abuse event Friday that involves several Lexington high schools. FEND will be introduced at that event. They are also working with other Fayette County school personnel to get more Lexington students to download the app, she said.

Carama, through his various outreach efforts, is also helping spread the word.

But does a smartphone app work?

Previous drug abuse prevention campaigns, such as the “Just Say No” campaign from the 1980s and D.A.R.E., or Drug Abuse Resistance Education, did little to stop drug use among teens, research showed. A ten-year study of the DARE program showed it may have increased drug use among teens.

FEND data from a pilot program in Rhode Island showed that students who used the application shifted their attitude toward drugs, said Burgess. The app was developed using research that shows what types of messaging reaches teens, Burgess said.

James said the FEND app will allow the city to get more accurate information about youth attitudes toward drugs and drug use.

Gorton said in January 2019 she would name a multidisciplinary team to look at Lexington’s current drug treatment, prevention and other efforts. That team was supposed to come up with a list of recommendations.

James said putting that multidisciplinary team together is still a work in progress.

“We had more than 100 people who wanted to be part of it,” James said, but the city is now looking at creating several smaller subgroups to tackle specific issues.

©2020 the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.