In 2016 alone, 42, 249 Americans died of opioid overdoses. President Donald J. Trump declared the nation’s opioid crisis a public health emergency in October 2017 as the crisis continued to persist. More than 300,000 Americans have died from overdose since 2000 and this public health emergency has had a profound effect on students and families. Opioid addiction and overdose has been coined the “crisis next door” as it plagues American communities from cities to suburbs and rural areas. On October 2, 2018, the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives (CFOI) hosted an opioid prevention listening session with faith leaders who work with students in opioid abuse prevention and recovery to educate and engage stakeholders.
Opioids are a class of drugs that include those legally available by prescription, such as codeine, morphine and oxycodone, as well as illicit drugs such as fentanyl and heroin. This class of drugs can be natural or synthetic chemicals and are intended to reduce feelings of pain. Opioids can be highly addicting and can lead to dependence. The opioid misuse, overdose and addiction rate is alarming and must be addressed by continuing to empower teachers, educators and community leaders to educate youth against opioid abuse vulnerability.
The opioid listening session presenters included esteemed authors, inspirational advocates and community leaders who shared prevention techniques and how to build resiliency among youth and adults who may be at risk for opioid abuse and addiction. Their diverse experience working in the opioid prevention and recovery space moved participants as they discussed how their work and relationships have positively impacted children, teens and youth who have overcome trauma, violence, drug abuse and misfortune.
Central themes of the opioid listening session included education and empowerment, building genuine and meaningful relationships, spirituality and resiliency. Roswell Smith Jr., Director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Washington, D.C. discussed sports being one of the largest influences of American culture as many youth see athletes as role models. Sam Ryan of ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach (OCO) Youth Engagement attended the listening session and identified with “developing youth in the locker room.” Ryan serves on the ED Opioid Prevention Task Force and found the speakers engaging and a complimentary testament to the various departmental and interagency opioid prevention activities.
In addition to the CFOI listening session, additional work at the Department to equip local leaders and communities to prevent opioid addition impacting students continues. Elyse Robertson from the Department’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students and Michael Chamberlain from OCO hosted Federal Prescription Drug Take Back Day at ED’s headquarters on October 24, allowing ED employees to safely dispose of unused or expired prescription drugs and learn more about the opioid crisis. Federal agencies and community organizations also participated in Federal Take Back Day and more than 631 pounds of opioids were collected at 42 federal sites. Earlier this year, ED launched a website Combating the Opioid Crisis: Schools, Students, Families at www.ed.gov/opioids. More information and resources on opioid prevention from ED and other federal agencies can be found at this site.
If faith leaders have additional opioid prevention strategies that could help empower parents or local communities and would like to share with CFOI, please send the information to [email protected].