Student Well-Being

More School Drug Prevention Programs Address Prescription Painkiller Abuse

By Evie Blad — January 06, 2015 1 min read
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Does your school’s drug prevention program make a special effort to address prescription drug abuse? Should it?

I’ve noticed more and more districts making an effort to do so, whether voluntarily or to comply with new state mandates. In Ohio, for example, a new state law will require to teach about the dangers of prescription opiates, which are viewed as a gateway to heroin use for teens, the Dayton Daily News reports. From that article:

Some districts, including Springfield City Schools, are already required to teach about illicit drugs in some fashion. While details of the additional instructional mandate have yet to emerge, the new law is a recognition that students are potentially at risk of being touched by heroin at ever younger ages, said Superintendent David Estrop. 'The more we can help our students, our young people, understand the dangers of some of the things that they may be experimenting with, or have thought about experimenting with, the better, particularly given the heroin epidemic that's sweeping many communities,' Estrop said. 'This seems to be yet another step forward to try to make sure young people in particular understand that there are dangers.' "

This shift creates an interesting dynamic. As I noted in my story about recreational marijuana laws last year, many makers of drug abuse prevention curricula have steered away from an approach that warns students against a list of specific taboo substances, instead adopting efforts to bolster personal judgment and decision making. But that approach comes as drugs like synthetic marijuana and prescription painkillers become larger public health concerns. Lawmakers and educators have responded to those concerns by creating new requirements to specifically address those drugs in schools.

Schools are concerned about prescription drug abuse, which is a serious health concern on its own, and they are also concerned that it will lead to use of other drugs, such as heroin.

In recent years, states have combatted prescription drug abuse by creating registries that allow clinicians to more easily track what drugs are dispensed to their patients, by hosting large “take back” events that allow the public to dispose of unused prescriptions, and by training doctors to recognize abuse.

As those policies have made prescription drugs more difficult to obtain, some have suspected that users have turned to heroin instead. The National Institute on Drug Abuse found in 2010 that one in 15 people who take nonmedical prescription painkillers will try heroin within 10 years.

In 2014, 1 percent of 12th graders responding to a federally administered survey said they’d tried heroin in their lifetimes. On that same survey, 20 percent said they’d used a prescription drug, and 9.5 percent said they’d used a narcotic other than heroin. Teens are still far more likely to use other substances. On that same survey, 66 percent of 12th graders said they’d ever used alcohol, and 34 percent said they’d used cigarettes.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.