Opioids: A Multi-Pronged Problem For Schools
Director of Education & Government Practice
The use and misuse of opioids is one of the great cultural challenges of our time. And like most issues, schools are put in a difficult position because of the complexity of your environment. While most organizations can focus on their employee population, schools have the challenge of two distinct audiences: your staff and students.
Having to address the challenges of your staff and student populations can seem overwhelming. These two populations are distinct, not only in how they obtain/use opioids, but the control you have in helping them find a solution. Here are some resources helping you get started:
Addressing opioid use amongst staff is the more controllable of the two groups. As a district you can address access to opioids by putting responsible programs into place for your staff. Your health, dental, employee assistance and worker’s compensation programs have direct ways that you can help. Recently my colleague Cindy Van Asten covered this issue in depth. I encourage you to learn more by reading her article: Opioids: A Cultural Crisis and a Business Risk.
As school leaders, you have additional concerns regarding the opioid issue involving your students. And while you don’t control a student’s access or usage of opioids, it is important to understand the culture surrounding them and resources you may have at your disposal. Here are a few things to consider when it comes to your student population:
- Motivation: For most students opioids aren’t really different than other intoxicants. Many students use them due to social anxiety, peer pressure and to relieve stress. There are also a large number of students that become addicted after being prescribed an opioid after an injury. This is especially the case for student athletes who suffer an injury.
- Sources: Opioids differ greatly from other drugs/intoxicants in the way that students get them. In most cases, they are not obtained not “on the street” but rather from an existing supply in the student’s home, or the homes of friends/relatives. Unfortunately, if this source is exhausted, students with serious addictions are susceptible to stronger drugs such as heroin.
- Resources: Because of the recent public attention to this serious issue, you have more resources to help tackle this issue than ever. Both federal and state governments have made stopping the opioid crisis a priority. From the federal level, check out the resources available on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) website and the State of Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ)education-focused site.
- State Law: Last summer, Wisconsin Act 29 was enacted into law. Known as the “Opioid Antagonist Administration in Schools and Institutions of Higher Education” law, the statute exempts a school bus driver, employee, or volunteer from civil liability for his or her acts or omissions in the administration of an opioid antagonist to a pupil or other person who appears to be undergoing an opioid-related drug overdose. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) webpage can help districts identify resources to help them implement this law.
The misuse of opioids is an important issue for your staff and students. As you develop an action plan to minimize the effect on your populations, we encourage you to take a big picture approach and leverage external partners, such as government entities, local health care systems and your insurance partners to make sure your staff and students can continue to focus on education.