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Keeping the Opioid Crisis Out Of Schools Starts with Early Education

The opioid crisis has a firm grip on the well-being of  Americans and drug-related overdoses now account for the leading cause of death among adults under the age of 50. It’s a startling statistic and one that has sadly led to numerous headlines of parents overdosing with children present.

Opioid abuse isn’t limited to adults of course and is a growing problem in schools, both in small towns and large cities all across the United States. The prescription drugs which fall under the opioid umbrella --  hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl, and oxycodone -- generally lead abusers to turn to heroin once the prescription runs out. Going beyond the “Just Say No” campaign of the 1980s, educators and lawmakers are working to combat the growing use of these drugs at all age levels, from elementary up through college.

Rebecca King, a school nurse in Delaware’s New Castle School District believes children need to be warned as early as possible on the dangers of opioid use. “Adolescents are vulnerable because they are natural risk takers and are curious,” King told NeaToday. “They often think using pain killers recreationally is safe because they are prescribed by a doctor. They need to be taught early the strong addictive properties of this drug.”

Maryland saw a 66 percent jump in drug overdose deaths in 2016 and recently passed the Start Talking Maryland Act, in an effort to fight the crisis. Starting July 1, public schools will be required to start educating students about the dangers of opioid abuse in third grade and have school nursing staff trained on how to administer the overdose-reversal drug, naloxone.

“It's a crisis that we need to identify and make educators as well as parents aware of it, and provide the resources to deal with it," the bill’s lead sponsor, Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D), told The Baltimore Sun.

New York state passed a similar law in 2014, mandating that schools update their health education curriculums to reflect the opioid epidemic. This has led to some schools breaking away from the old norm of PSA videos to take a more “in your face” approach.

Frank Whitelaw, a former crime scene investigator and now coroner has seen more drug-related deaths than he’d like to remember. He recently delivered a presentation for students at Saranac High School in Elizabethtown, New York, complete with photos of a student from that school who had died of a heroin overdose. The victim's mother also came in to describe the horror of seeing her child dead.

Whitelaw told The New York Times that parents might like to think that it’s better to shield their children from such grotesque images of society’s darker side, but that’s only turning a blind eye. “The problem is if you don’t expose your kid to the ugly things and educate them on it, they will find out about it differently.”


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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