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Award-winning GameChanger film “One Pill Can Kill” to air in West Virginia’s schools

Announcement made during GameChanger event at The Greenbrier

By Autumn Shelton, West Virginia Press Associaton

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – The award-winning GameChanger film “One Pill Can Kill” will soon air in middle and high schools throughout West Virginia as part of “Laken’s Law,” which was signed by Gov. Jim Justice following the recent legislative session. 

Laken’s Law mandates that fentanyl prevention and awareness education be taught in West Virginia’s schools beginning the 2024-2025 school year. 

This announcement was made by West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Michele Blatt, along with U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, GameChanger Founder and Executive Director Joe Boczek,  GameChanger Board Chair Larry Puccio, and award-winning actress and West Virginia native Jennifer Garner during a press conference at The Greenbrier on Wednesday, prior to the fourth annual GameChanger Golf Classic reception and dinner. 

As explained by Blatt, House Bill 5540, “Laken’s Law,” was written to remember a young adult from Raleigh County who passed away due to fentanyl. 

“Laken was a young adult, actually a young mother in Raleigh County, who passed away. She had an addiction. She had been in and out of treatments. She was recovering and was on the right track . . . but ended up taking a pill that was laced with fentanyl, and it cost her her life,” Blatt said. “Her parents have made it their mission to make sure that all students, everyone’s aware of the danger of fentanyl.” 

Blatt added that the state legislators wanted to emphasize the dangers of fentanyl and supportive state and community resources available to students as part of the school system’s drug prevention programs. 

“[Laken’s Law] requires the oversight of fentanyl abuse, training around what that looks like, the danger of fentanyl, and how to use things to recover if you run into parents or students that have been exposed to fentanyl,” Blatt said. “This is going to be a program that is required annually through state code for our students in grades 6-12.” 

Blatt added that GameChanger’s “One Pill Can Kill” film meets all the legislative requirements for Laken’s Law, and that the peer-to-peer model provided by GameChanger for the past four years has made an impact on many students.

“That peer-to-peer model is what makes a difference,” Blatt said. “[Students] hear a lot of us talk all the time, they hear their parents talk, but when the students are providing them with the information, and are sharing stories that they’re aware of in their lives, then I think that’s what really makes the impact in the classrooms.” 

GameChanger was founded in 2019 to address the growing opioid and substance misuse problem in West Virginia. It is the first program of its kind in the nation and is designed to build positive, youth-led school environments with help from school-based GameChanger coaches. Through a partnership with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the program strives to help the state’s children make healthy choices so they can be the leaders of tomorrow. The program is currently implemented in 52 schools spanning 18 West Virginia counties. 

According to Boczek, the program keeps growing. 

“We are very close to starting pilot programs in both Kentucky and Tennessee,” Boczek said. “Overall, the GameChanger program is catching fire in communities, and community support is as high as it’s ever been.” 

Boczek continued that “everyone realizes the problem that we’re facing,” and that West Virginia has “taken the lead in prevention education.” 

“We’re dealing with carfentanil now,” Boczek said. “It’s an elephant tranquilizer. It’s killing kids within four seconds of taking a pill that has carfentanil in it. It literally paralyzes their lungs immediately, and they suffocate in four to six seconds. That’s some of the things that we have to educate our kids on in this program.” 

Puccio added that through GameChanger, students are becoming more aware of the dangers of opioids, like carfentanil, and he “salutes” today’s students who are making a difference in educating their peers. 

“I don’t think we realize what leaders we have coming up and how good they really are,” Puccio said, adding that he is impressed that students understand how dangerous the drug crisis is. 

“They speak to members of their school, they go to students at younger grades, they speak to them, and they do a fabulous job,” Puccio continued. “Those students don’t want to hear from a guy like me; they truly want to hear from other students they trust and believe in.” 

Sen. Manchin stated that innocent children have been caught up in the drug crisis, and prevention must start in the schools. 

“Joe, you’ve opened up your arms and your heart for everybody, and we want to make sure that there’s more room, and we need more people involved,” Manchin said to Boczek. “We need more schools involved, and we need to take it to more states that want to be involved.” 

Manchin continued that no state has been more affected by addiction than West Virginia and that the best mentor for a student is another student. 

Garner added that youth intervention is imperative. 

“If you can get to an adolescent and convince them, in a supportive, communal way, to stay away from drugs, to stay away from opioids, don’t try that one pill, don’t smoke that one thing, don’t do any of it, then you’ve bought them their lives,” Garner said. “Otherwise, addiction, as we all know, just takes the rest of your life. With four out of 10 pills containing a lethal dose of fentanyl, that may never happen for so many of West Virginia’s beautiful kids.” 

To learn more about GameChanger, visit https://gamechangerusa.org/.

GameChanger Founder and Executive Director Joe Boczek speaks to the media during a press conference at The Greenbrier ahead of the fourth annual GameChanger Golf Classic reception and dinner. Photo by Autumn Shelton, WVPA
GameChanger Board Chair Larry Puccio, WV Superintendent of Schools Michele Blatt and GameChanger Media Relations Director Shelly Poe speak to the media during a press conference at The Greenbrier ahead of the fourth annual GameChanger Golf Classic reception and dinner. Photo by Autumn Shelton, WVPA

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Feature image caption: (l to r) U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, Jennifer Garner, GameChanger Founder and Executive Director Joe Boczek, State Superintendent of Schools Michele Blatt, GameChanger Chair Larry Puccio, and GameChanger Media Relations Director Shelly Poe. Photo by Autumn Shelton, WVPA

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