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Ohio 4-Hers hope display educates on opioid crisis


XENIA, Ohio — 4-H members across the nation can pick almost any farm-related topic and make it their focus. After so much talk about opioid-related overdoses, though, it didn’t take one 4-H group from Greene County in southwestern Ohio long to put their feelings into action.

The 4-H members from this county created a medicine cabinet display to get the word out about prescription misuse and to try to prevent the next potential user from adding to Ohio’s growing opioid crisis. The traveling display is to appear as any mirrored medicine cabinet found in the average American’s home – with the question to all who pass it: “What’s in your medicine cabinet?”

“The goal is to attract attention about the issue and engage the public in discussions on how to prevent opioid abuse,” said Greene County 4-H member Molly Rubio, 15. “The message is clear. Look in the mirror. The face of opioid addiction staring back at you could be yours. Open the medicine cabinet, and those prescription pain pills could be your entry to addiction.”

According to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), in 2007 unintentional drug poisoning became the leading cause of injury death in Ohio, surpassing motor vehicle crashes for the first time on record.

The trend has continued. From 2000-15, Ohio’s death rate due to unintentional drug poisonings increased 642 percent, and the increase in deaths has been driven largely by opioid-related overdoses. In Ohio, there were 411 fatal unintentional drug overdoses in 2000, growing to 3,050 deaths in 2015.

In 2016 there were 4,070 drug overdose deaths in Ohio. The ODH says approximately eight people die each day in the state from unintentional drug overdose.

Thus, the inspiration for the 4-Hers’ traveling medicine cabinet – which includes prescription bottles labeled with drug abuse facts and information as part of their work as Ohio 4-H Health Heroes. The 4-H Healthy Living program provides youth with the chance to represent the organization and promote healthy living in their communities.

State-level 4-H Health Heroes promote healthy eating, encourage people to engage in physical activities and propagate positive community change. Rubio is among a group of high school and college students who make up the Ohio 4-H Health Heroes.

“The medicine cabinet display is a project of the Ohio 4-H and was funded through a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the National 4-H Council,” said Theresa Ferrari, a 4-H youth development specialist with Ohio State University extension.

“The display was used by 4-H members at fair and other events around the state as a means of encouraging talk among young people about the opioid crisis. There are so many misconceptions about who uses opioids. This mirrored medicine cabinet display is one way to illustrate that it’s not who you think it is; it could be you.

“Our goal is to raise awareness about the opioid crisis in Ohio and to teach people how to properly dispose of prescription opioid medications, and inform people about resources in the community,” she explained.

Madelyn Smith, a 4-H student from Blacklick, said the interactive medicine cabinet display has been an effective way for her and other 4-H members to talk to other teens across the state.

“While people generally seem to be aware about the opioid issue, they’re shocked when they hear the numbers of those affected and how many people are dying,” she said. “This is something that we need to talk about, especially to our peers, who seem to respond better when they hear this kind of information from people their own age.”

The medicine cabinet display includes a set of trivia-based questions to quiz participants on their knowledge of opioid facts. “The display is even more effective because 4-H members who are trained to advocate about medication safety and drug abuse prevention staff it,” Ferrari said. “Teens listen to each other better than they listen to adults.”

The medicine cabinet was on display at last month’s Ohio Farm Science Review.

Across the country, 4-H chapters are celebrating National 4-H Week from Oct. 1-7. To learn more, talk with your local extension office and visit