Opioid Addiction and Schools

Oct 30, 2017 by

The New Drug Epidemic: A National Emergency?

The United States is in the midst of an unprecedented public health emergency.  President Trump  recently directed the Department of Health and Human Services to increase efforts to address the opioid epidemic, but the federal government has not produced additional funding to make substantial programs a reality.  The need for action is apparent when the scope of the problem is considered.  In 2016, about 59,000 Americans lost their lives as a result of drug overdoses.  That is a four-fold increase since 1999.  Indecently, an increase in opioid prescriptions have coincided with the four-fold figure during the same period.  For many addicts, prescription opioid abuse leads to heroin. The epidemic is further complicated by the rising use of powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl.  As alarming as these numbers may be, they represent a much larger segment of the population that are dealing with drug abuse through personal addiction issues or the addiction of a loved one.

Students, Parents, Faculty and Staff

Few schools avoid the dysfunction of substance abuse in some form. The contemporary opioid epidemic has been more pronounced in some states than others, but it is apparent nationwide.  It has effected quiet rural communities as well as the inner cities.  Tiny enclaves and sleepy suburbs have witnessed an inundation of pills and cheap heroin.  Historically, school leaders have witnessed everything from unauthorized tobacco use and over the counter caffeine pill sales to drug induced psychotic episodes and fatal overdoses.  The impact of substance abuse is not limited to students.  Teachers and other professionals are susceptible to the same addictions as any human and sometimes that addiction will manifest itself with disastrous results. In addition to the direct impact of drug abuse by education shareholders, many students, teachers and administrators are faced with the daily reality of a parent or partner dealing with addiction issues. The contemporary opioid epidemic has impacted the lives of countless education shareholders in recent years and there is no sign that the trend will decrease soon.

Student Drug Use

Since 1999, the overall use of illicit drugs by students has declined.  This statistic may seem unlikely considering the larger epidemic effecting the country, but young people are using less alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs than previous generations.  Even marijuana use has decreased or remained stable while attitudes about the use of the drug have shifted dramatically in recent years. The cause for the decrease may be unclear, but the message has been consistent to young people for many years: just say no.  Drug education is beginning at increasingly younger ages and opioid abuse has become a priority in many health curriculums.  While these numbers are encouraging, there are still too many students abusing drugs with disastrous consequences.  Student prescriptions, bandages, ice packs and heroin antidotes are now common in many school nurse offices.

Families and Addiction

The impact of opiate addiction on families is simply horrific.  Many states are facing a foster parent shortage as child advocacy agencies scramble to place children whose parents cannot provide appropriate care.  Children are growing up with grandparents and other relatives while parents serve jail terms or succumb to overdose.  For children living with addicted parents or guardians, basic necessities like food, clothing and hygiene may not be a concern.  As educators are all too aware, when parents fail to meet these basic needs, school communities must often provide services for the children.

Schools and Opioids

School leaders must be prepared to deal with drug abuse issues in any form.  Whether it be the senior marijuana dealer or the student athlete abusing steroids, school officials must be aware of possible issues and be ready to take action.  The same must be true for opioids, meth and other widely abused drugs.  Leaders should communicate regularly with local law enforcement officials to understand the nature of drug abuse among the community. These are critical conversations to constantly have with local community leaders as well.  Leaders should know which students may be at risk for drug abuse as well as those whose home life may involve the use and abuse of illicit drugs.  School leaders should be equipped with a range of resources from the school district and local community including counseling, treatment and law enforcement to address the unique situations involving drug abuse among shareholders.  As important as these formal resources may be in addressing drug abuse in a school community, the rarer resource of compassion and empathy should be applied in liberal portions.  The student who sleeps in a home with no heat has little concern for school uniform policy.  The teachers who devote so much of their lives to other people’s children may not have as much to give when they are caring for their grandkids and have not heard from their own children in months.  The opioid epidemic is having an impact on everyone in one form or another.  The impact of opioid abuse on our education system is undeniable.

Keywords: Opioid, addictions, heroin, drug abuse, K12 drug use

Comment Below on what proactive steps is your school or school district doing about the increasing opioid crisis.


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