INDIANAPOLIS — A pilot program teaching high school students how to properly use prescribed medicine and ways to battle illegal substance use will be expanded into 18 Indiana counties.

The Prescription Drug Safety Network is a 45-minute computer program that can be offered during the school day, typically in health classes. It has been offered since last fall in 15 Marion County schools.

Officials, in announcing the expansion Monday, acknowledged there is no mandatory follow-up to ensure students adhere to the substance abuse prevention program. 

"I think that we do a good job of leaving that up to teachers," said Maddy Murphy, director of global partnerships at EVERFI, which developed the program. "We would love for them to keep engaging on this topic."

The course is underwritten by Walmart, North Central Health Systems and the Indiana Attorney General's Office.

About 17 percent of Indiana high school students have abused prescription drugs, Murphy said. The program teaches students how to properly use prescribed medicines and offers ways to avoid being pressured by peers into abusing medicine.

The 10 counties in which the program is being funded by the Office of the Attorney General are Crawford, Dearborn, Fayette, Henry, Jennings, Ripley, Scott, Starke, Switzerland and Washington. The office will provide $20,000 annually for three years.

The eight counties where the program is being funded by North Central Health Services are Benton, Carroll, Clinton, Fountain, Montgomery, Tippecanoe, Warren and White.

A 60- to 90-minute lesson plan can be used for supplemental learning, Murphy said.

The course is aligned with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Health Education Standards and state academic standards, officials said. However, the Indiana Department of Education does not endorse such products, officials said. 

Developed by education technology company EVERFI, the course uses strategies to improve student preparedness, behaviors and attitudes toward making safe decisions. Program leaders said that students in the pilot year achieved a 49 percent increase in knowledge from pre- to post-course assessments.

“The greatest jumps in knowledge were around how to support a friend who may be at risk for misuse and abuse of prescription drugs,” Murphy said.

About 83 percent of teachers recommended the course and about 70 percent of the students said it made them feel more confident in being able to intervene with a friend who might be misusing prescription drugs, organizers said.

Attorney General Curtis Hill said the average age of overdose deaths in Indiana is 19 and that the high-school program could be a "literal lifesaver."

© 2019 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.