RCS launches task force to combat mental illness, addiction

District partners with Red Wings announcer Ken Daniels to spread awareness

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published February 27, 2019


ROCHESTER HILLS — Detroit Red Wings announcer Ken Daniels lost his son Jamie to an opioid-related overdose in 2016.

He has been spreading awareness of opioid abuse via the Jamie Daniels Foundation since his son’s death in an effort to get people to start talking.

The Rochester Community Schools district recently partnered with Daniels to spread awareness about mental health, the opioid crisis and suicide prevention.

Daniels shared his family’s story during the Rochester Regional Chamber of Commerce Community Outlook Breakfast Feb. 22.

“My son became addicted in three to five days because the chemical receptors in your brain change. You want to say no, but you can’t. The cognitive response to say no isn’t there. The glutamate receptors have changed. You can’t. Addicts don’t want to be addicts. They don’t,” Daniels said during the breakfast. “And if every person in this room tells 10 people that, the shame and stigma will disappear.”

Rochester Community Schools Superintendent Robert Shaner said the number of deaths from opioids and drug use, along with suicide, is on the rise.

“It’s no secret that our community has been affected by a number of tragedies,” Shaner said. “And we are disheartened, not only by the number of suicides, but opioid-related deaths in our community.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 700,000 people died from drug overdoses between 1999 and 2017, and approximately 68 percent of the overdoses in 2017 involved an opioid.

Suicide is listed as the 10th- leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the third-leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the CDC. The CDC says that approximately 4,600 lives are lost to suicide each year.

“Quite honestly, we don’t talk about it, and we don’t talk about it enough,” Shaner said.

During the breakfast, Shaner announced the launch of a new task force that will focus on social and emotional wellness. The task force, led by district administrators and supported by the Board of Education, will gather subject matter experts to evaluate the types of programs currently in place, study organizational best practices, and create and execute a plan to promote positive social-emotional wellness and resilience within the district’s schools, he said.

“Cultivating a community of acceptance to remove the stigma of asking for and getting help is also critical to our success,” Shaner said.

School officials also announced that the Board of Education is looking to enhance policies that would enable the district to acquire and maintain at least one functioning opioid antagonist at each building, a reversal drug that trained district personnel could administer to any individual on school grounds who is believed to be having an opioid-related overdose.

“It’s time that we talk about it, we’re aware of it and we act on it,” Shaner said.