We face a growing public health threat in what has become known as the Opioid Crisis. Deaths from opioid overdoses have more than quadrupled in recent years, and victims span the social spectrum. Opioids include a variety of drugs including morphine, oxycodone, methadone, heroin, and others. Sadly, many of the victims began their tragic journey by abusing prescription drugs provided by well-intended physicians.
Without question, efforts to combat this deadly crisis must include more than schools and educators. It is a community problem and requires a community response. Nevertheless, there is much we can and must do to lead within areas of our responsibility and collaborate with others who can also bring resources, expertise, and influence. Our role is particularly important since the adolescent brain appears to be more susceptible to the influence of drugs, and involvement begun in adolescence can develop quickly and grow into adult life.
An important first step is to ensure that staff, students, and families are aware of the danger opioids represent and how easily they can become a threat. In addition to coordinating with units of local government, social agencies, churches, and others, schools can post information on websites and in social media, distribute informational flyers, place articles in newsletters, hold discussions within the school community, and integrate information and resources, where appropriate, into curricular activities. One key to success appears to be helping everyone overcome the stigma of drug abuse and addiction and encouraging people to get help rather than hide.
We also need to make people aware that acting quickly when they suspect that someone is experiencing an overdose can be key to ensuring their survival. Deciding to wait or choosing not to become involved may be a decision with devastating consequences and life-long regret. Overreacting may result in temporary conflict and embarrassment, but underreacting may be fatal. Publicizing your state’s Good Samaritan Law within the school community can also offer reassurance that providing assistance will not place those who get involved in legal jeopardy.
We need to be sure that staff members are trained to recognize symptoms of opioid overdose and are aware of emergency response procedures. In addition, consider having key staff members trained to administer Narcan® (naloxone HCl),
a drug that can reverse symptoms of an opioid overdose. Narcan® can be administered as an injection or nasal spray, so staff members can utilize the option with which they are most comfortable. In addition, Narcan® is not harmful if administered in the absence of an overdose, so the risks are small. Those who provide training for staff can also assist in securing initial supplies of Narcan®.
We will continue to learn more about the nature of the threat, and state and federal governments are mobilizing in response to the crisis. New resources to assist in the battle are being developed and made available regularly. We can stay informed by periodically connecting with agencies such as: Department of Education, Department of Justice, National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, American Medical Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Psychological Association and others.
You may be already engaged in this battle and have ideas and strategies to share. If so, please consider sharing them by posting a response to this blog.