UnityPoint Health announces sponsorship of prescription drug safety education for high school students

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Opioid overdose is now the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States according to the National Safety Council. And UnityPoint Health in Des Moines is looking to do something about it.

They are starting with the most vulnerable, high school students. Announcing a partnership with the prescription drug safety network and the Des Moines Public School system at Roosevelt high school Monday.

One in five high school seniors are reporting to the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey that they have misused prescription drugs. And one of three teens believe there is nothing wrong in doing so every now and again. It’s numbers like that, that has UnityPoint Health doing something no other health system has done before.

“We are really proud to be the first in the country to partner with Everfie (the nation’s leading education technology innovator) to work on this prescription drug education for our teens,” David Stark, the President and CEO of UnityPoint Health - Des Moines said.

UnityPoint is sponsoring a drug safety course at schools.

“We have got to lift the veil on this,” Stark said. “It is an important topic, it is an addiction just like other addiction. It is a health condition, just like other health condition. If we can’t recognize that and begin the discussion, there is no way we are going to help solve it.”

UnityPoint Health believes an important step is stopping the addiction before it ever becomes an addiction. Speakers at Roosevelt high school Monday said, through prevention education students can be a part of the solution.

“Early intervention pays dividends down the road in a significant way. That’s true in your nutrition, it’s true in your exercise. and it’s true on catching things in your addiction,” Stark said.

UnityPoint Health will offer this drug safety education in Central Iowa, Sioux City, Fort Dodge, Cedar Rapids, and the Quad Cities in the first year. And plans to expand to more communities after that.

Roosevelt freshman year health students sat in on the announcement today, and say this program can really help.

“It could be really effective and to help us learn about it before we get in those type of situations and for the kids that are already in it they know the dangers and what the stuff they are getting into,” Pahola Gutierrez-Velez, a Roosevelt freshman said.

Des Moines Public Schools is the first district to take part, and the course will be offered free of charge to other school districts across the state in communities served by UnityPoint Health.

Stark has dealt with prescription drug addiction first hand.

“It has absolutely quadrupled in prevalence in the last 10 years in our country. And the Des Moines community and the State of Iowa is not immune to this,” Stark said.

Two years ago a pharmacy technician, Victor Van Cleave, stole Fentanyl and other prescription drugs from possibly 731 patients at the Iowa Methodist Medical Center. Last week the Des Moines hospital ,owned by UnityPoint Health, notified an additional 182 patients that their medication may have been stolen as well during that same time period.