There is an opioid epidemic in the United States. What many may not realize is that it is trickling down to students in our schools. The fact is that opioids are not hard for teens to get their hands on. Many students are introduced to them when they have an injury and are given a narcotic pain reliever to help with their recovery. As states are dealing with the growing problem, many are focused on utilizing schools as the first line of defense in this growing problem.
Many states now have grants that schools can apply for. In addition to this, some states are drafting and passing bills to incorporate opioid education within public schools. Those in the educational world are being called on to reach students and families about the dangers of these drugs. Below are four key items for all schools to think about as they begin to implement opioid programs.
Educate students on the dangers.
This needs to begin early and do not sugarcoat things. Explain to students why opioid drugs are dangerous. Give examples on how they can hurt them physically, mentally, and beyond. Share stories of what has happened to teens who started to use and abuse opioids. Share with kids how to identify warning signs in friends or peers and how to get them help from a trusted adult.
Inform parents about the dangers of opioid pain medication use with teens.
Many student athletes and teens are injured in sports or other ways. When they have pain, doctors may give them a narcotic that includes an opioid. This is often the introduction teens need to get hooked and move onto more down the road, especially if a doctor tries to discontinue painkillers before the pain has sufficiently improved. Share other options and how they can talk to their child’s doctor about therapy and other medications instead.
Share information with teachers and staff on how to identify students who may be in trouble.
Have a session with everyone in the school to go over what opioids could do to teen students. What are signs of abuse and have a protocol set up for how to handle this delicate situation.
Know the laws for whether an antidote may be kept at school for a crisis.
Look at your state and regional laws on whether a school may keep an antidote in the building. Each state is different, and it is important to know who is authorized to administer it during school hours and extended day events. This life-saving medicine can save lives in the event of an overdose from opioids like heroin, fentanyl, or prescription painkillers.
The time is now to get a committee together at the district and school level. Take time to figure out a plan to educate school clinicians and therapists, other school staff, families, and students about the dangers of teen opioid use and abuse.