Ohio First Lady Karen Kasich chose her alma mater, Upper Arlington High School, to launch the central Ohio kickoff of "Start Talking!"

Ohio First Lady Karen Kasich chose her alma mater, Upper Arlington High School, to launch the central Ohio kickoff of "Start Talking!"

The program is a drug-abuse awareness initiative she and her husband, Gov. John Kasich, designed to encourage parents to have "those hard conversations" with their children so they can live healthy, drug-free lives.

Mrs. Kasich talked to students, parents and community members at the inaugural event Jan. 21 in the Learning Center at Upper Arlington High School.

"UAHS has special meaning for me because I went to high school here," she said. "My nieces go to school here now.

"As parents, we know the world is very different than when we were teens," she said. "We experience more worries and our kids experience more pressures and stress. Talking to your kids -- having those hard conversations -- has never been more important."

"When the First Lady asked if she could return here, to her alma mater, for this event, the answer was an enthusiastic and resounding yes," Upper Arlington schools Superintendent Paul Imhoff said. "We are always happy to see a Golden Bear come home again and we are grateful to have the governor and Mrs. Kasich join us in the battle to keep our students safe, healthy and drug-free."

Imhoff said the community must come together to fight student substance abuse.

"Drugs are one of the biggest dangers facing our children today and we have to stay vigilant to protect our kids," he said. "Our best chance at beating this problem is if the entire community works together.

"This initiative takes a common-sense, community approach and we're excited to partner with the city and other local service agencies in this effort."

Mrs. Kasich said no neighborhood or home is immune to the dangers of drugs.

"As parents, our first instinct is to shield our children, to protect them from life's stresses and temptations and to limit their exposure to things that will cause them pain," she said. "But that's a naive approach."

She said parents have to step up.

"We have to face our own fears and talk with our kids about drugs -- the drugs on the street and the drugs in our medicine cabinets," she said. "There's an incredibly moving statistic that's at the heart of why the governor and I created Start Talking: By just talking with our kids about drugs, they are 50-percent less likely to use or abuse them."

Like so many other states, Ohio is fighting a drug problem, she said.

"We've made great strides in the last three years but there's so much more to do," she said. "We can all do our part by talking to the young people in our lives.

As parents, community leaders, as principals and teachers -- if there's a young person in your life who looks to you for guidance, you should be talking to them about drugs."

Imhoff said people must realize that addiction can happen to children in any city, from any walk of life.

"No community is immune and no family is invulnerable," he said. "We also know that once addiction takes hold, it can have a devastating impact on a young person's life and their family.

"Clearly, we can't beat a problem of this magnitude by looking the other way," he said. "We must come together as a community of parents, educators, of medical and mental health professionals, of law enforcement, of city leaders, of religious leaders, and tackle this issue head-on."

Some of the tools presented through the program include the Parents 360 RX Action Tool Kit, to help parents learn about prescription drug abuse; and Youth Resilience groups, funded by the state in schools where at least 40 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.

Information about the new initiative and resources for parents, schools and communities is available online at StartTalking.Ohio.gov.