The Effects of the Opioid Crisis on the Nation's Students and Their Battle Against It -

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The Effects of the Opioid Crisis on the Nation’s Students and Their Battle Against It

The Effects of the Opioid Crisis on the Nation’s Students and Their Battle Against It

In October 2017, President Donald Trump declared the opioid abuse epidemic a national public health emergency. And it indeed is. It’s been killing Americans at an alarming rate which has no precedent in recent history. But it does not only impact the drug abusers themselves. The opioid crisis also has a severe impact on a scale more massive than the individual one, with whole families and communities being affected.

In the school environment, it’s not uncommon to see the effects of the opioid crisis even though the students are rarely abusing opioids themselves. However, their parents or other adult figures that they know die, go to jail or disappear; as a consequence of using or distributing opioids. Now students are rising in a combined effort to help in the battle against opioids.

Students Suffer as Well

It’s no surprise that the younger generations are trying to fight back, given what most of them often witness in their everyday lives. School counselors, teachers, principals and even first responders such as firefighters and paramedics hear such stories daily. Small children see overdosed people in the next door backyard. Students can’t focus on their math test because they have no shelter and a warm meal, caused by their parent’s neglect of them because of opioid abuse. The impact of the opioid crisis on communities and families has been profound and terrifying.

However, there’s also been a rise in the rates for drug overdose deaths in adolescents aged 15-19, for the first time since 2015. And, according to a CDC survey, 80% of high schools were required to teach about alcohol and drug use prevention in 2016. This practice also found its way into 78% of middle schools and 64% of elementary schools. Additionally, over one-third of all districts have a student drug-testing policy, which means that students have not entirely escaped the clutches of opioid addiction.

Schools Are Overburdened

Adding to the issue is the lack of funding and schools being too overburdened to take extra care of students. In Arizona, the ratio of counselors to students has gone down to 1-to-924, pushing prevention programs to the sidelines. When counselors serve more than two schools, they can only observe when amendments that would help: such as the one that called for lowering the ratio to 250-to-1; are being voted down by the legislators. Fortunately, Medicaid funds to schools have not been lessened, and federal aftercare programs, such as they are, still exist.

Unfortunately, there aren’t that many counselors that can help students that are being affected by the opioid crisis. There should be extensive counseling available for those students, but it often comes down to the efforts of both students and school staff.

Education Is Key

Fortunately, the youth has shown some remarkable courage and initiative in the face of the crisis. Especially in counties that have been stricken by the crisis, the students are organizing themselves into groups with the aim of raising awareness of the issue and educating their peers. And according to the experts, education is one of the significant pieces of the puzzle when it comes to opioid abuse prevention.

Not only that, but it’s also crucial to educate the youth, as they’re in much higher risk from starting to abuse opioids before they’re 18. One of the primary gateways into opioid abuse is the post-operative period, where many patients get prescription painkillers after undergoing surgery, and often end up with left-over pills. In those cases, it’s critical for the youth to be aware that this is a gateway to drug abuse, which is where education comes in.

Students Fighting Back

There are no school district boundaries when it comes to the fight against the opioid crisis. We’ve seen shining examples of students fighting back in various counties. In Warren County’s Franklin High School students participate in a Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) meetings a few times per year. Their goal is to raise awareness about opioid abuse, as well as to address the possible consequences of making destructive decisions. The SADD program organizes various demonstrations of what could happen as a consequence of disastrous choices, such as creating a mock crash scene at the school.

Butler County is setting a good example too. In the county where opioids are killing adults in historic numbers, with almost 800 dead since 2012, a senior at Fairfield High School has formed a student anti-drug “youth coalition.” It’s an extremely active and expansive student anti-drug group, with over 200 members who work tirelessly, volunteering and mentoring younger students. They answer any questions that the more curious students may have and help the ones in need with finding help, whether it’s social or health care, to deal with addiction.

Education through Health Classes

However, for awareness raising to be done successfully, the educational system needs to keep up and involve students more into addressing the problem. One of the ways of doing that is improving opioid abuse education through health classes themselves. For example, at Franklin High School, health teachers assign research projects to the students, encouraging them to learn more about the issue.

At that delicate age when peer influence is strong, seeing others use drugs and getting addicted may seem like a show of cool rebelliousness, but unfortunately, the students are rarely aware of the consequences if they hadn’t seen them firsthand. However, if teachers encourage them to learn more about it by assigning them research projects and presentations, the students can learn about opioids at their pace, yet still be aware of how destructive addiction can be.

The U.S. opioid abuse crisis impacts everyone, on both the large and the small scale. It’s crucial to improve the education and raise awareness on the issue to prevent youth from abusing opioids. A portion of that task the students take into their own hands, which likely helps to solve the problem more than can be measured.

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