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Schools Battling Opioid Epidemic: 3 Strategies in Action

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2014 saw the most drug overdose deaths in America’s history.

If you talk to teachers and parents across the country, a lot of communities are struggling with the problem of drug abuse, especially among school-age children.

How bad is it?

Consider that nine percent of overdose deaths in the CDC study occurred among young people, totaling more than 4,000 15- to 24-year-olds. Harder still to fathom: at least 109 overdose deaths were reported among children under age 14.

Such numbers are staggering. In those states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, community leaders and activists have begun turning to schools to help stem the tide.

At the heart of these efforts exists a driving emphasis on stronger engagement between at-risk students and local schools and school leaders.

Are you dealing with these issues in your school or district? Here’s a few of the more innovative ways that schools are fighting back against the scourge of student drug use and abuse.

Ohio builds a path forward

In Ohio, educators have sought to identify “constructive” solutions to the problem.

Members of the Ohio STEM Learning Network, a public-private partnership of Ohio STEM schools, and the Ohio Department of Education recently announced a new program that tasks students with designing and building projects to aid in the fight against opioid abuse, reports Cleveland Patch.

School leaders hope engaging students with a practical challenge will lead to real solutions and start an important dialogue.

“Real-world challenges offer students powerful opportunities to lock in learning,” Ohio State Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria tells Patch. “With this challenge, Ohio students will put their learning to the test to help solve a critical challenge facing our state.”

New Hampshire dances for change

Earlier this week, New Hampshire officials announced that the city of Manchester would become the fifth city in the United States to roll out the DEA’s ambitious new 360 drug abuse awareness and prevention effort.

According to WMUR 9, the program takes a three-pronged approach: increased law enforcement, diversion and education, and community outreach, including funding for youth programs that engage students in conversations about the problems associated with drug use and abuse and offer healthy alternatives.

Case in point: The offers students a free, professionally-designed dance curriculum, both during and after school. The idea is to provide at-risk students with a safe, engaging way to stay healthy, develop personal confidence, and talk to each other about the problems that could lead to drug use.

When school leaders talk about the importance of student engagement in schools, such discussions often center around different ways to enhance conversations between students and educators. But strong community engagement also requires the existence of a safe place where students can freely express themselves—in comfortable, productive ways. City leaders in Manchester say the dance program is one way to provide that outlet.

Florida encourages recovery

Engaging students as a means of drug use prevention is important. But what about students who’ve already fallen victim to the pain and struggle of drug abuse?

In September, Jacksonville, Fla., became the latest U.S. city to open a “recovery” high school, the Washington Post reports.

Recovery schools give recovering drug addicts a chance and an opportunity to restart their educations through a mix of traditional high school instruction and addiction therapy.

With controlled enrollments of up to 100 students, these schools seek to immerse students in a supportive environment that includes interactions with classmates who have faced similar challenges.

Currently 27 recovery high schools operate in 11 states.

But communities don’t have to open recovery high schools to provide help to students struggling with drug addiction. Support can start with something as simple as awareness and a conversation.

Do you actively engage students, parents, and staff in conversations about drug use and abuse? Do you provide a forum and an outlet for community members, including students and parents, to openly discuss the problem and to propose solutions? Tell us about these efforts in the comments.

For more on how to engage students about drug abuse or other problems in your schools, read When students call out for help, are you listening?