Loss Control Insights for Schools

Prescription Opioid Abuse in Schools: 4 Tips for School Administrators

man looking into hands

The numbers are staggering. According to the CDC, opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999. It's now estimated that more than 90 people die every day in the United States as a result of opioid abuse. Prescription opioid abuse is a problem that can affect both your staff and your students.

People often have their first encounter with a prescription opioid after an injury. They may be prescribed a medication for a short period of time, take more pills than they should and quickly become dependent or addicted. It’s important for your district to be aware of the issues surrounding prescription opioid abuse and what to do if you suspect a staff member or student has an addiction problem.

Types of Opioids

Prescription opioids are medications prescribed for pain management. They are chemically very similar to heroin. In fact, many people who are addicted to prescription opioids often will become heroin users. Some types of opioid products include:

  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin)
  • Morphine

Tips for Administrators

There are a number of things you can do to help prevent prescription opioid abuse and provide support to those who need it.

1. Include prescription drug use in your drug-free workplace policy

Let your staff know that if they are prescribed an opioid, they are expected follow their physician’s instructions. Non-medical use of opioid pain medication should be strictly prohibited in your school handbook. Make sure all are aware that it is a violation of your drug-free workplace policy to abuse prescription medications.

2. Train on the dangers of prescription opioids

Encourage your staff to discuss the potential ramifications with their medical provider if they prescribe an opioid pain medication. For their own safety, they should also ask what the provider’s overall policies are on prescribing and monitoring opioid medications.

Employees taking a prescription opioid may become dependent on it quickly and experience adverse effects when they stop taking the drug. Encourage employees to seek help if they think they have become dependent or addicted to prescription drugs.

Educate students on the dangers of nonmedical opioid use and giving them to friends. Make it easy for them to speak up if they think a classmate has a problem by implementing an anonymous reporting system. Encourage parents to monitor, secure and properly dispose of any prescription drugs in their home. School nurses should also be aware of the signs of prescription drug abuse and be prepared to intervene if necessary.

3. Know the signs of abuse

Being aware of the signs of opioid abuse is one of best ways to identify staff or students who may need help. Someone may be abusing opioids if you notice:

  • A change in productivity
  • A change in appearance
  • Tardiness
  • Sleeping on the job or in the classroom
  • Poor decision making

If you suspect a staff member is abusing prescription drugs, assist them in finding treatment options. The sooner the problem is acknowledged, the better the chances of overcoming addiction. If you suspect a student is abusing prescription drugs, inform their parents immediately.

4. Check your state regulations on naloxone

No one wants to think an overdose could happen at their school. In case it does, having access to naloxone (Narcan) can save a life if administered on time. There are significant variations in state regulations regarding who is allowed to administer medication to students. In some school districts, medication can only be administered by school nurses, who often work at more than one school. For more information on state naloxone laws, refer to one of these resources: the Network for Public Health Law, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the Policy Surveillance Program.

Additional Information