Opioid Crisis and Overdose Awareness for K-12 Schools

Picture of Tara Gibson By Tara Gibson


Opioid Crisis - pill bottle with opioidsThe opioid crisis shows no signs of slowing down and continues to plague families and communities by killing Americans every day. The U.S. Department of Education has now joined other Federal agencies to combat this issue by putting a focus on prevention and recovery as well as reducing risk and promoting factors that increase resiliency. It may come as a surprise, but K-12 schools and districts play a very important role in reaching these goals.

Understanding Opioids

According to the Department of Education opioids are either natural or synthetic chemicals that are created to reduce feelings of pain. They’re a class of drug that include pain relievers, which are available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, and morphine. Heroin is also an opioid, as well as synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Anybody who takes prescription or illegal opioids can easily become addicted to them or develop a tolerance of physical dependence.

Related Blog: Is Fentanyl the Third Coming of the Opioid Crisis?

Unfortunately, in 2016 more Americans died due to opioid overdoses than car crashes. In the same year, an estimated 239,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 were current misusers of pain relievers (1.0% of adolescents). Among adolescents aged 12 to 17, 152,000 (0.6%) had a pain reliever use disorder in 2016, and 291,000 young adults aged 18 to 25 (0.8%) and 1.3 million adults aged 26 or older in 2016 (0.6%) had a pain reliever use disorder, according to REMS. These shocking statistics really put an emphasis on how much of a problem opioid addiction is, especially among young adults.

6 Steps Schools can Take to Address an Opioid Overdose

Nobody wants to think the worst, but with the number of young adults experimenting with opioids, it's important to know what to do in case of an overdose on school grounds. When developing activities, programs, and services to address an opioid overdose, a school district or school planning team can progress through these six steps, according to Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools:

  1. Form a Collaborative Planning Team
    Your planning team should be ready to address an opioid overdose incident. It’s suggested that the members of the planning team seek additional input from those who have experience in treating opioid overdoses directly such as campus health service providers or school nurses, first responders, occupational safety experts, and public health and emergency management professionals.

  2. Understand the Situation
    In this step the planning team must identify the threats and hazards to the K-12 school by using a variety of formal and informal assessment tools. By doing this a planning team may be able to assess the extent of opioid misuse within the school community. An example could be an annual survey sent out to students which includes questions on drug use, which can yield data to help inform an understanding of the prevalence of use.

  3. Determine Goals and Objectives
    After the planning team has assessed the level of risk posed by threats and hazards they can begin to determine both goals and objectives to achieve the best outcome before, during, and after an overdose incident, according to REMS. For example, when developing goals for addressing an opioid overdose, three of them may be as follows:
    • Before: Prevent an opioid overdose from occurring.
    • During: Respond to an opioid overdose.
    • After: Offer recovery support to individuals who overdosed on an opioid.

  4. Plan Development
    The planning team’s next step is to identify the course of action for accomplishing each of the previously identified objectives to address the what, who, when, where, why, and how. Many schools have implemented school safety technology, such as a panic button application, which can alert 9-1-1 immediately of a medical emergency, such as an overdose. 

  5. Plan Preparation, Review, and Approval
    After developing the emergency operations plan it should be written down and circulated in order to receive feedback from those who are responsible for implementing the document. The EOP (emergency operations plan) should best meet the needs of the school and the community partners who play a role in implementing the plan as well. REMS says, “Teams may choose to include opioid-related goals, objectives, and courses of action in an annex to the EOP such as an Alcohol/Drug Overdose Annex.”

  6. Plan Implementation and Maintenance
    The emergency operations plan should be reviewed and revised when needed. Those who were assigned roles in the EOP should regularly practice so that they know how to continually prevent, protect, mitigate the effects of, respond to, and recover from an incident while protecting the school community.

What More Can K-12 Schools Do?

The U.S. Department of Education wants to put a focus on prevention and recovery as well as reducing risk and promoting factors that increase resiliency. So, how can schools get on board? School leaders can help by creating a safe and comfortable environment which in turn forms a positive school culture for students. It’s also important for educators to teach both students and their parents or guardians about the dangers of drug use, including ways to prevent opioid misuse and addiction. It’s easy to share resources and statistics with families by sending a quick email or message through your school notification platform or mention them in a parent-teacher meeting.

Educators and school administrators should also be on the look out for students who may be vulnerable to engaging in dangerous behavior. Parents and guardians are responsible for their children most of the time, but when their on school grounds it’s extremely important for teachers to keep a watchful eye, as parents rely on them to keep their kids safe during the school day.

Unfortunately, schools should also be prepared if an opioid overdose were to occur on school grounds, and follow the steps listed above. Some school districts are now equipped with Narcan, or Noloxone, which is an opioid revering drug. According to Fox 2 Detroit, “Schools in Brighton and Novi are also stocking up on Narcan. The superintendent of Novi public schools Dr. Steve Matthews says he "would rather be prepared and not have to use it than unprepared and need it.”


What Can K-12 Students Do?

The Department of Education tells us the social behavior of students affects the success of schools as learning environments. When students see their peers engaging in risk-related behaviors it becomes a barrier to academic gains and healthy lifestyles. For this reason, students should fully understand the dangers of opioid misuse and illicit drug use. Resisting the pressure from others to experiment with and misuse drugs should be supported as students are then developing their own decision-making skills.

Having an anonymous tip text software can be a great help for students to anonymously report any suspicious behaviors. For example, if a student sees another misusing drugs, they can inform the responsible administrators without being known as the person who relayed the information. The anonymity makes students more comfortable and unafraid of getting in trouble.

Feel free to click below if you're interested in learning more about our anonymous tip software. 

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Written by Tara Gibson

Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12 education, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!


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