The opioid crisis has produced broken families, shattered lives and indescribable tragedy throughout the United States. Drug overdoses have claimed more than 300,000 lives since the year 2000 and have become the leading cause of injury death in the country. In 2016, more than two million Americans had an addiction to prescription or illicit opioids. No community is immune to this “crisis next door.”
On October 26, 2017 President Trump declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency. The Presidential Memorandum he issued that day expresses the Administration’s commitment to addressing the opioid crisis and its effects.
The Department of Education and other Federal agencies throughout the Administration are actively combating the opioid crisis. On the newly-created Opioids.gov you can see the magnitude of the crisis and the Administration’s efforts to combat it – from stopping the flow of illicit opioids into the U.S. to providing first responders with overdose-reversing drugs increasing access to treatment. Americans can share their own stories at CrisisNextDoor.gov, and I certainly encourage students, parents and educators to share how they have been impacted.
I recently visited the powerful “Prescribed to Death” memorial at the White House that honors the precious lives lost to opioid misuse. While the numbers are staggering, this memorial helped to illustrate the reality that this crisis is not about numbers, it’s about real, individual people. It’s about lives cut far too short. It’s about the grief of families losing sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers to the tragedy of overdose.
The impact on children has been especially profound. In just a dozen years, the incidence of infants born drug-dependent increased by almost 500 percent. Nearly a third of all incidents of children being placed into foster care is a result of parental drug misuse. Not unexpectedly, our nation’s schools are on the forefront of dealing with this crisis.
The Department of Education is engaged in a two-pronged approach to addressing the crisis. First, we are helping to educate students, families and educators about the dangers of opioid misuse as well as the importance of prevention and recovery. We are also supporting State and local prevention and recovery efforts and highlighting successful practices by schools.
One such school is Johnstown Elementary, located in western Pennsylvania and in a community hit hard by the opioid epidemic. I visited Johnstown earlier this year to see the school’s unique program to strengthen social and emotional learning to aid in preventing drug abuse and violence. I was impressed by the program’s focus on promoting good behavior instead of merely reacting to bad behavior and observed students as young as kindergarten putting it into practice. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, Johnstown’s approach could easily be replicated by many other schools.
The Department of Education’s website Combating the Opioid Crisis: Schools, Students, Families houses a number of resources from throughout the federal government that can help inform awareness, prevention and recovery efforts. State and local officials can also check out our recent webinar on how to respond to the opioid crisis in schools here.
These efforts are just the beginning of our work to combat the opioid crisis. We’ll continue to work with students, parents, educators, health care professionals and all others across the nation to educate Americans about the dangers of opioid abuse, help prevent opioid misuse and halt the devastation these drugs have wreaked.
Betsy DeVos is the U.S. Secretary of Education.