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When students call out for help, are you listening?

Americans are dying from drugs in historic numbers. The CDC reports that U.S. drug overdoses have increased by more than 130 percent since 2000. Those rates climb even higher when you drill down to specific drugs—heroin, for example. Unfortunately, the tragedy of drug and substance abuse is not something to which our schools are immune.

Many students have drug and substance abuse in their families or in their homes. Some face these problems, and the consequences that often result, personally.

Since the “Just Say No” and D.A.R.E. campaigns of the late eighties and early nineties, K12 schools have vigorously supported anti-drug messaging. Visit a school parking lot ahead of prom season and you’ll probably see one or two smashed up cars, visceral warnings put in place by wary administrators who know too well how the toxic tale of teens and booze can end.

Warnings and education programs are important. But as the rate of substance and alcohol abuse in K12 schools persists, it’s equally important to provide an outlet for students who need help, or who want to help their friends.

Getting creative
In New Hampshire, which has been hit hard by what Sen. Jeanne Shaheen calls a heroin “pandemic,” the Berlin Area School District has experienced the tragedy of drug abuse firsthand. The district has already lost two students to heroin this year. Overall, its reported drug abuse rate dwarfs that of other schools in the state.

“We see these kids everyday. We know them. We work with them and to lose one is like losing a family member,” Berlin School District Superintendent Corinne E. Cascadden, told education news site the 74 for a story.

As this video (also from The 74) shows, school leaders and students are searching for creative ways to deal with the worsening crisis.

Berlin should be applauded for rolling out new and innovative solutions to beat back the drug problems in its school community. Whether it be through student leadership groups, a rethinking of how students are disciplined, or the introduction of anti-overdose drugs in schools, the district continues to  reach out to its community on several fronts.

These and other efforts offer a source of encouragement for students and families, but district officials say they won’t have hard data to determine if the programs are working until a new CDC survey on student behavior comes out later this year.

But why wait?
While the upcoming CDC survey is important to districts like Berlin and others, it’s not the only resource administrators have to gauge the effectiveness of their anti-drug and substance abuse efforts. New technologies, including resources that can be used to anonymously report substance abuse in schools or seek help with addiction, are available for both students and parents.

In addition to new reporting tools, school districts also have the ability to survey their communities independent of large government research efforts. While the upcoming CDC survey will help administrators better understand the scale of the problems the district is facing, a self-administered survey of students and families might help them dig deeper to uncover new ideas and viable solutions.

Drugs and substance abuse affect every community. Tragedy is unavoidable. But by being proactive, and by encouraging students and families to talk about these issues, you can help your community seek the help it needs to heal.

How do you engage your students and their families about issues of substance abuse? What are you doing to stay ahead of the next pandemic? Tell us in the comments.