“So many families here go back generations,” says community health activist Robert Thompson. “So it’s easy for people here to see the difference in the community from what it was ten years ago.”
One of those residents who knows a thing or two about the changes over the last decade is Berlin High School senior Kayleigh Eastman. She describes the town her parents grew up in, where she was raised, as naturally beautiful if a little desolate: “On a Friday night you’ll get an invite to a party where it’s drinking and drugs.” she says. “So that’s what people do to pass the time.”
Combine that boredom with an abundant supply of cheap heroin and the cycle of drug abuse spins out of control.
In fact, Berlin High School has been hit particularly hard with a 93% higher drug abuse rate than any other high school in the state, according to school administrators. Two Berlin public school district students died of overdoses in just the past school year.
“We see these kids everyday. We know them. We work with them and to lose one is like losing a family member,” laments Berlin School District Superintendent Corinne E. Cascadden. She says that the rise in drugs use and recent tragedies have been a wake up call for the community. “Our goal is to be able to provide a support system and not just practice discipline,” she says.
With this in mind, the community now sees the epidemic as a public health crisis and an existential threat to their families and way of life here. So, now it’s become a matter of intervention and support, especially in Berlin High School.
Earlier this month, the Berlin school board made the anti-overdose drug Narcan available in its schools. The town’s schools have also doubled down on promoting youth-led organizations to save the student community through positive peer pressure. One such organization is Youth Leadership for Adventure, which provides activities and support to fight drug abuse among friends and peers.
The community’s call to action is bringing hope, but its real impact won’t come until later this year when CDC survey results will measure just how successful these initiatives have been in reducing drug abuse in this small northern community.
Previously: Iowa’s Grand Plan to Rethink High School as On-the-Job Training