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Combating the Opioid Crisis In America, Starting With High Schools

By Amal Ali (‘21)

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The opioid crisis is a threatening danger to Americans as over 2 million Americans used and abused street or perscription drugs in 2017 alone. Opioids are drugs formulated to replicate the pain-reducing properties of opium. They include legal painkillers like morphine, oxycodone, or hydrocodone prescribed by doctors for acute or chronic pain, as well as illegal drugs like heroin.

Opioids are killing Americans and putting them at risk at unprecedented rates, affecting whole communities especially urban and rural areas due to the limited resources of prevention, treatment or or recovery. Factors like poverty, low education attainment and isolation are correlated with overdoses, which is why in 2017, President Donald Trump declared the opioids crisis a national public health emergency.

The US Department of Education is trying to target schools in order to spread awareness about the dangers of opioids. The mission is,“1) Helping to educate students, families and educators about the dangers of opioid misuse and about ways to prevent and overcome opioid addiction and; 2) Supporting State and local education agency efforts to prevent and reduce opioid misuse.”

Opioids are a difficult drug to combat in America so the government has aimed to focus on helping stop the crisis in advance, targeting high schoolers. One major point of focus is the degree to which teachers educate students about these life-threatening drugs. The education starts right in the classroom, where school leaders, teachers and staff create a safe environment for students in order for them to ask questions about how to prevent drug addiction or why opioids should be kept out of everyone's hands. They can educate students, each other and families about the dangers of drug use and how to prevent opioid misuse and addiction.

South Brunswick is fortunate enough to have two certified school nurses nurses and two registered nurses, along with the Public Health Club that informs the student body about the dangerous effects of opioids, and how it can affect the future.

In order to make South Brunswick an aware and safe environment when discussing drugs, School Nurse Mrs. Donna Moreen and the Public Health Club provided an opioid lecture to the students and faculty of South Brunswick, discussing topics like prevention, abusing prescription drugs, and how to get help.

Mrs. Moreen explained how dangerous it can be for kids who often start by pilfering prescription drugs and then switch to illegal substances because they are cheaper.

She said, “The issue with the opioids among students is that they start to take opioid pills from their parents or grandparents medicine cabinets, later making them buy them on the streets or from people. One opioid pill is about 7 dollars and is the same as heroin, and if someone can buy heroin for seven dollars it’s cheaper and easier. Abusing prescription medication like opioids can result in a heroin epidemic.”

Research supports Mrs. Moreen’s statement.

Mrs. Moreen also discussed how the issue with opioids actually start with doctors who overprescribe opioids. About 80% of opioid prescriptions are written by doctors, and some are not used for pain. This has led to several overdoses because people were given about 30-90 pills but only need about three and have leftover pills.

Nurse Moreen also noted, “Educating parents about prescription drugs is important. Some parents don’t even know that the opioid crisis is a problem. It’s important for them to know kids have an easy access to pills. Throw them out after you're done using them. Hospitals can prescribe 30 pills for something you need three for so it's important to throw them out.”

When on the topic of how to prevent drug abuse Mrs. Moreen said, “We try to educate the students in classes, and we educate the staff to look for signs among the students, like falling asleep and can’t be aroused, or pinpoint pupils.”

The way opioids affect the body is through parts of the brain and heart. Some short-term effects include feelings of calm, sleepiness, confusion, slowed or stopped breathing, nausea, vomiting, and constipation. Long-term effects include, addiction, heart infection, lung infection and muscle pain. These effects create unstable health in one, and have caused several overdoses. Just in 2017, 72,000 Americans overdosed on drugs, and 49,068 deaths were caused by opioids.

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