The Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation on Tuesday will announce a $12 million initiative to support drug prevention education in Marion County schools over the next three years.

The Prevention Matters initiative will try to address the opioid crisis for the next generation by giving schoolchildren the tools they need to avoid substance use. Fairbanks officials hope the training will also decrease the use of drugs such as methamphetamine and marijuana as well as tobacco.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could avoid the tragedy of people becoming addicted,” said Claire Fiddian-Green, Fairbanks president and chief executive officer. “We know that substance use is hurting children and adults all over the country.”

The initiative is part of a multi-pronged effort by the Fairbanks Foundation to combat the opioid crisis. In addition to prevention, the broader initiative aims to expand access to treatment and other services.

Many local schools already have some form of substance abuse prevention education in place, but only a fraction are evidence-based, according to a survey Fairbanks conducted. About 31 percent of the schools surveyed in Marion County had a substance use prevention program, but only 11 percent of schools had a program that was evidence-based.

Prevention Matters funding will be divided into two forms. Planning grants will be available this spring to help schools find a program that’s best for them. Later in the spring, Fairbanks will make a round of competitive grants to support the programs.

All 300 or so schools in Marion County are eligible to apply for both grants.

The $12 million isn’t enough to fund every school, but Fiddian-Green said that it could help many schools in the county.

Two entities, the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at Indiana University School of Public Health and the Education Development Center will work with schools during the planning period to help each school identify a program that fit its needs.

A plethora of evidence-based programs exist; so selecting the one that’s best for a particular school may not always be easy, said Kathleen Ratcliff, a research associate and community prevention specialist with the IU center.

“The challenge is we want to make sure we’re doing the best we can and putting the best in place,” she said.

Often the programs don’t deal overtly with substance use issues but provide students with skills that will not only help them make better personal choices but can also improve students’ behavior and academic performance.

Botvin LifeSkills Training, a program developed more than three decades ago as a smoking prevention curriculum, is frequently cited as a model.

An estimated 50,000 teachers have trained in the program, which has been used for more than 3 million students in about 10,000 schools, said Paulina Kalaj, director of communications for National Health Promotion Associates, the New York-based group that administers the program.

Based on a cognitive behavioral therapy model, LifeSkills Training teaches students about self-improvement, goal-setting, coping with anxiety and anger among other skills. Studies have found that students who participate in these programs are almost 30 percent less likely to smoke six years after participation and 66 percent less likely to use marijuana after three years than their peers who did have the program.

“It’s really about equipping the kids with these skills so they make healthier decisions,” Kalaj said. “It continues to be tested and it works time and time again.”

In recent years, the Eminence Community Schools in Morgan County have been using this program in their classrooms.

Originally the program was implemented at the middle school level, but the school district decided to expand it to start in third grade, said Ashley Wilcoxen, kindergarten through 12th health teacher for the district.

At first, the school district had a grant for the program but once it expired, they decided to continue offering it. It focuses not on learning about the worst drugs in the state but on teaching students about the long-term effects of substance use and how to say no when faced with temptation.

“We really like the program and think it’s a great fit for our community,” Wilcoxen said.

Call IndyStar staff reporter Shari Rudavsky at (317) 444-6354. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

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