Courtney Sexton, the winner of Miss Florida 2016, has traveled throughout the state of Florida to talk to middle and high school students about addiction to prescription and illicit drugs.
Sexton’s presentations have been a part of the Real Talk with Miss Florida campaign, which focuses on informing students on the dangers of drugs, alcohol and addiction with facts and evidence-based research.
Rather than focusing on statistics and graphs, #MissFLRealTalk speaks honestly about the reality of drug and alcohol abuse. @ApopkaMS_OCPS pic.twitter.com/Q6Yk5wdzyx— Miss Florida (@MissAmericaFL) February 16, 2017
Real Talk with Miss Florida also addresses steps students struggling with substance abuse can take to get help rather than simply promoting abstinence like many other school drug prevention programs do.
“Real Talk is real,” Sexton told ARS. “It’s not a bunch of graphs; it’s not a bunch of statistics. It’s a conversation, and I think that’s what helps change the mood and the dialogue and the way the message is received by students.”
Sexton has visited five schools in Florida, including Winter Park High School, Apopka Middle School, St. John’s Country Day School, Mandarin High School and Carrollwood Day School. Since her first presentation at the Winter Park High School 9th Grade Center in November, she has engaged thousands of Florida students in conversations about substance abuse and addiction.
Sexton hopes to visit 20 additional schools by the end of May. She wants to visit as many schools and make an impact on as many students as she can before relinquishing the Miss Florida title in July.
“I’ve done five, but I want to do 40,” said Sexton. “I want to impact 20,000 students, not just 3,000 or 5,000.”
Real Talk with Miss Florida has not only educated students about drugs and addiction, but Sexton as well. She says that before Real Talk with Miss Florida training, she did not fully understand the scope of the American addiction epidemic that largely stems from prescription opioids.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there was a 23 percent increase in drug overdose deaths from 2010 to 2014. Of the more than 52,000 people who died from a drug overdose in 2015, 63 percent of deaths involved an opioid.
Sexton encourages students to reach out to her after the presentation if they struggle with substance abuse or know a friend or relative facing addiction.
“With Real Talk, I leave a school and within an hour I have 15 Snapchat messages and 10 Instagram messages and five tweets from students reaching out looking for support,” said Sexton. “Real Talk hits home with the students. It’s making an impact.”
Sexton says her most memorable moment with Real Talk was also one of her hardest. A high school student came up to Sexton after the presentation to tell her that her best friend was struggling with alcohol abuse, and she did not know how to help him. Sexton told the student to contact her after school and she would do whatever she could to help.
“I gave her some things to say and some tools and got her connected with the team at Advanced Recovery Systems, and she got the confidence to confront her friend,” Sexton said. “She was able to express her concern for her friend and let them know, ‘Hey, I love you and I care for you, and I don’t want anything bad to happen to you. Let me help you.’”
It is moments like these that make Real Talk worth it for Sexton.
Sexton is the first Miss Florida winner to promote Real Talk with Miss Florida. The campaign was created through a partnership with the Miss Florida Organization and Advanced Recovery Systems.
The partnership will allow future Miss Floridas to continue the Real Talk with Miss Florida campaign for years to come.
Sexton says she thinks the program has been extremely successful and has the potential to become a national drug and addiction awareness program.
“My vision for Real Talk is for it to become a nationwide campaign,” said Sexton. “This has the potential to be in every state and every county. I would love it to become a piece of school curriculum.”