By Sarah-Jane Lorenzo
State legislatures across the country are advancing bills to address and prevent drug addiction and abuse, and a handful of these bills are giving state boards of education added responsibilities in this area. If approved, these bills presage state board action in the coming months, ranging from development of drug education programs to creation of policies for administration of Naloxone, used by school nurses as an antidote for opioid overdoses.
A new law in West Virginia requires its state board of education to develop guidance for administration and storage of Naloxone. School nurses can use the drug to keep students alive while they wait for paramedics to arrive, and stocking the antidote is a frequent state approach to opioid concerns. Maryland, Tennessee, and New Jersey are also advancing legislation that specifically mentions state boards.
Although the percentage of students using drugs has declined in recent years, overdoses for youth aged 15 to 24 have been on the rise since 2012. Student attitudes toward Ecstacy, crack cocaine, and Vicodin are another source of concern: A 2016 survey found that fewer U.S. students in the eighth and tenth grades than in years past think using those drugs is risky.
At least one state board has already put discussions of student drug use on its agenda in 2017. In its January meeting, the New York Board of Regents focused on heroin and opioid abuse. The board coordinated a panel that included representatives from the New York State Education Department, a medical expert, a district administrator, a college student, and a local nonprofit director. The panel covered pertinent pending legislation, information on opioid prevention and treatment, and strategies to track youth risk behavior. Perhaps the most impactful presentation was that of the student, who drew from personal experience and observations and suggested prevention and support strategies that could help students focus on school and develop interests in more positive pursuits. To increase transparency and community engagement, the board also made accessible a full video of their opioid panel and its accompanying PowerPoint presentation.
Not all boards have authority to address the problem through new policy, but every board can spark change. All of them can take a page from the New York Board of Regents, for example, and host constructive conversations about combatting addiction. By keeping close to their communities and schools, state boards can inspire a fresh look at the evidence on prevention and treatment strategies.
Sarah-Jane Lorenzo is a research associate at NASBE. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.