The Opioid Crisis and America’s High Schools

A resource for journalists

The views of school principals

The opioid crisis has continued to play out in communities and states across the nation during the first two years of the Trump administration. Eleven million Americans misused opioids in 2016, resulting in 42,249 deaths from overdose, or more than 130 deaths every day. Every region in the nation has been affected, but the impact has been most strongly felt in West Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, and Maryland, as well as in rural areas. A new national survey of high school principals recently published by the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA) finds schools and students greatly affected by the opioid crisis.

Key findings include:

  • 62 % of school principals report that their schools have been impacted by the opioid crisis.
  • Principals say opioid addiction in students’ families has resulted in student concerns about their well-being or the well-being of family members, students losing focus in class or missing classes, parent and guardian difficulties in supporting students, and a lack of parent and guardian participation in school activities.
  • Principals in predominantly white schools are far more likely than their peers to report these problems and to note they have occurred multiple times.
  • Schools in small towns and rural areas are most affected.
  • Almost one-third of principals interviewed report fatal overdoses occurring within their school community.
  • Many principals described how students’ lives are upended when parents become addicted, impacting their mental health and also often resulting in extreme financial hardship.
  • Principals whose schools are affected by the opioid crisis dedicate an average of more than one hour each week addressing these challenges.
  • The vast majority of principals report talking with individual students about their concerns, connecting students to counseling or social welfare services, and/or partnering with community based organizations adept at providing supports for students and families.
  • About one-third of principals offer professional development opportunities for their faculty to support students with addicted family members.
  • Principals feel somewhat unprepared for dealing with the opioid crisis. Most principals do not have protocols or systematic plans to deal with student addiction or dangerous drug use at this scale.

For additional information, the full report, School and Society in the Age of Trump is available here.  The research on the opioid crisis begins on page 23.