Student survival becomes priority for educators in opioid crisis response
- Greg Cruey, a middle school teacher at Southside K-8 School in War, West Virginia, shares how the opioid crisis is impacting education in a county that led the nation in opioid-related hospitalizations in 2014 and is ranked as one of the most at-risk counties in the nation for an HIV outbreak, due to intravenous drug use, the Hechinger Report reports.
- The trauma caused by opioid addiction breaks up a high percentage of families in this area, causing many students to be essentially homeless or in foster care and affects students' attendance, concentration, and their ability to function normally as they deal with the trauma of their every day struggle for survival in an unstable environment.
- Cruey feels that teaching priorities come second to helping these students survive and feels that much of his responsibility comes down to supporting students, monitoring their health and well-being, and giving them as much knowledge and as many skills as he can to prepare them for the future. The school also tries to address the accompanying poverty issues by providing many students with bags of food on Fridays, so they eat on the weekend.
As the opioid crisis continues to impact America, schools are struggling to deal with the increased challenges this presents. A new report released this week by the University of South Florida reveals the impact of the opioid epidemic on children in every state in the nation. More students are coming to school affected by Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome because they were born addicted to drugs. This condition can affect the physical, emotional, mental and behavioral health of students, which, in turn, affects their ability to attend school and to learn and react appropriately in the classroom.
The family life of students is also impacted. An increasing number of students are being raised by grandparents or other relatives or are in foster care. The new University of South Florida report noted “in 23 states, increases in opioid prescription rates were associated with increases in the child removal rate.” Those who remain at home often end up being caregivers to their addicted parents or younger siblings or become victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Some students become addicted to opioids themselves because the drugs are easier to obtain from family members or classmates. As a result, some schools are now embedding treatment counselors in schools.
Teachers need to be educated about the potential effects of opioid addiction and the impact this has on families and education. Trauma-informed practices, in light of the situations their students are facing, can also help them address their students' needs. However, schools also need a strong network of counselors, social workers and medical professionals so that teachers can focus on teaching and providing students a way out of the crisis.
Schools also play a major role in educating students and their families about the dangers and impacts of addiction to opioids and other substances. The federal government is supporting these efforts and offers materials that can be freely distributed. D.A.R.E. has also revised its program to deal with the issue. And a new “This is (Not) About Drugs” educational program, designed for students in grades 6-12, targets opioid misuse. Another free program called Project Alert offers 14 lesson plans for middle school students. Some schools are piloting other resources.
- The Hechinger Report Teachers are first responders to the opioid crisis