How Schools Can Help Stop Opioid Use in Teens

Aug 12, 2016
Tagged with: How Schools Can Help Stop Opioid Use in Teens


Abuse and addiction to opioids has reached epidemic proportions. In fact, more than six out of 10 people who died from drug overdoses in 2014, did so due to opioids. Contributing to these drug overdose deaths is the fact that prescription opioids are now big business with the amount sold in the United States nearly quadrupling since 1999. Everyday, 78 people in the United States die from abusing opioids, underscoring the severity of this problem that affects the social, health and economic welfare of society.

Opioids are drugs that work on the nervous system to relieve pain. Perhaps heroin is the most famously abused opioid, but prescription pain relievers such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine and codeine may be abused even more. Addiction and abuse to these substances costs Americans approximately $484 billion each year.

One of the more serious trends to emerge over the past decade is that heroin usage has more than doubled among young adults aged 18 to 25 years. Those who become addicted to heroin are usually white, non-Hispanic males living in a large metropolitan area who may also abuse cocaine, alcohol or marijuana. Another alarming statistic is that many also abuse prescription painkillers before becoming addicted to heroin.

Underscoring that trend is that no state had a drug overdose rates for youths above 6.1 per 100,000 individuals in the time period of 1999 to 2001. Ten years later, however, 33 states had a rate above that mark.

One of the ways that this alarming trend can be halted and even reversed is by getting school counselors involved in drug prevention and educational activities. School counselors already help youths by ensuring that they stay on track in their young lives. School counselors and officials can start by re-educating their students about how dangerous heroin is. The percentage of youths who believed that taking heroin is risky dropped to 79.8% in 2013, whereas 81.8% believed it was risky in 2005.

Traditional ways that school officials can help prevent opioid abuse is by consistently monitoring behaviors such as changes in peer group, drop in grades and academic performance, loss of interest in favorite activities, bad grooming habits, declining relationships with family and friends and sudden disciplinary problems.

Creating a school-wide abuse and prevention policy with consequences clearly spelled out, along with a consistent message at home, through social media and in the school environment are methods that can discourage youths from trying drugs. Recruiting local partners, such as law enforcement agencies, mental health agencies and the YMCA to spread the message are effective ways of reinforcement. Even with such measures in place, some students may fall through the cracks. For these individuals, ensuring that an early intervention program is in place with local agency referrals, as part of a prevention program, can help head off disaster.

Do you think school’s are doing the best they can to help teens at risk for substance abuse? Let me know in the comments below.

To learn how you can help a teen that may be abusing opioids or heroin check out the infographic below or visit:

Bradley University's Online Masters in Counseling Program 

Bradley University

Author: Audrey Willis

  • bobl07

    I am all for Counselors having better resources to deal with this issue. Drug abuse at any level can destroy lives.

  • Audrey Willis

    I agree Bob. It was interesting to look at the current opioid epidemic from this perspective.