(JACKSONVILLE, Fla.)—Teens from Duval and St. John’s counties in Jacksonville have taken their health into their own hands with the launch of Duval Co + Lab, a student-led drug prevention and mental health initiative backed by nine schools and multiple organizations across four northeast Florida counties.
The program, which is based on a whole-health concept, was founded by teens, for teens with the goal of amplifying ‘real talk’ on social media platforms like TikTok. Founder Jeb Allen and friends realized that fake information surrounding drugs and mental health spread on social media just as quickly as legitimate information making it hard to decipher what is true. The group has created an annual Aware Summit to reach other teens ‘IRL.’ Susan Pitman, founder and project and strategy director at Drug Free Duval (DFD), talked to The Click about how the group of leaders aims to change the culture around mental health and drug misuse awareness.
The Click: How was Duval Co + Lab formed, and what role does DFD play in their initiatives?
Pitman: In April 2021, a group of students experienced a set of multiple circumstances where one of their friends had overdosed and another went on to have a psychotic break. Synthetic marijuana was involved, and these weren’t instances they were comfortable talking about with their parents.
However, one parent who is an M.D. and aware of both situations connected them with us. These kids wanted help. The DFD community committee was already prepared with resources like our Signs of Overdose and Narcan training, and they wanted to take our conversation a step further.
They [the teens] see the nexus between mental health, social determinants, adverse childhood experiences, and pressures created by social media and world events that lead to self-medication or misuse of substances. They want to collaborate upstream to help their peers and entire community have the best, most current information, [and] tools, and an understanding of resources so everyone can experience health. Out of that conversation, Duval Co + Lab was born.
Why is DFD uniquely qualified to mentor these students?
Our community committee has had profound outcomes, providing Signs of Overdose and Narcan training (including a Narcan kit) to more than 7,000 people over the last two-and-a-half years resulting in 86 known, saved lives.
Why is the outreach Duval Co + Lab is doing important today?
Our kids [are being] legally prescribed a variety of medications like Adderall or Ritalin for ADHD or Xanax for anxiety. They’ve gotten opioid medications like Percocet or Tramadol for sports injuries. If they run out of their meds, then see an ad for what looks just like the prescribed drug they’ve taken in the past listed on a legitimate-looking Instagram, SnapChat, or Tik Tok ‘pharmacy’ profiles, they may order replacements that get delivered right to the home. Per the DEA, there is a 60% chance that a fake pill contains a lethal dose of fentanyl.
According to your website and a recent interview with Duval Co + Lab founder and student Jeb Allen, Duval Co + Lab has plans to host their annual summit in 2023, further develop a peer mentorship program, and have already made their presence known with a recent visit to Tallahassee. What’s next for your teams?
Duval Co+Lab is doing this work and doing it well. The landscape of drug use has dramatically changed recently, especially regarding youth. Experimentation today doesn’t look like it used to. We know through things like social media, information and access to drug and mental health-related content is inevitable. We want to provide access to training and safe content.
[This is an] opportunity … for Drug Free Duval to support their work, to amplify their vision, and to walk with them as they lead the next generation so illicit substance use will become a reduced issue in their lives leaving them healthier, happier, and more whole as they move into adulthood.
Drug Free Duval and Duval Co + Lab are sharing their message through social media and can be found on TikTok @DFDJax and Instagram @duvalcolab.