Combating the Opioid Crisis and Other Substance Misuse: Schools, Students, Families

Combating the Opioid Crisis and Other Substance Misuse: Schools, Students, Families

In October 2017, President Donald J. Trump declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency. The U.S. Department of Education (the Department) is joining other Federal agencies in combating the opioid crisis that is killing Americans at unprecedented rates and plaguing families and communities. While the causes of opioid misuse are complex and determined by multiple factors, the goals of prevention and recovery focus on reducing risk and promoting factors that increase resiliency. Schools play an important role in reaching these goals.

The Department is taking a two pronged approach to addressing the opioid crisis: 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.

On September 30, 2019, the Trump Administration issued a Presidential Proclamation announcing October 2019 to be National Substance Abuse Prevention Month. Click here to read the President’s proclamation.

What are opioids, how are they having an impact and what is the Federal government doing?

  • Opioids are natural or synthetic chemicals that reduce feelings of pain.
  • Opioids are a class of drugs that include pain relievers available legally by prescription such as oxycodone, hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine and morphine, as well as heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
  • Anyone who takes prescription opioids can become addicted to them or develop tolerance of physical dependence.
  • In 2016, more Americans died due to opioid overdoses than car crashes. From cities and suburbs to rural America, opioid addiction and overdose is "the crisis next door".


  • National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is an event lead by the Drug Enforcement Agency to provide a safe, convenient, and anonymous way of disposing of prescription drugs.
  • Watch this recorded webinar to learn more about how the opioid crisis affects students and families, and the policies and practices that can help address the crisis in schools.
  • illustrates the magnitude of the opioid crisis and actions the Trump Administration is taking to address it.
  • Data on youth drug use is available at the National Institute on Drug Abuse Opioid page.
  • CDC's Opioid Overdose Page provides comprehensive information about opioids and their risks, as well as information about how to protect against opioid misuse, addiction and overdose.

What is the role of schools?

  • School leaders, teachers and staff can create safe environments and positive cultures for students.
  • They can educate students, each other and families about the dangers of drug use and about how to prevent opioid misuse and addiction.
  • Many evidence-based prevention programs can be delivered in a school setting.
  • Schools can help to mitigate risk factors that can make students vulnerable to engaging in dangerous behavior.
  • They can also boost protective factors and increase student engagement.
  • Schools can be prepared if an opioid overdose occurs on school grounds.
  • Schools and school districts can support students in recovery and students whose family members are suffering from addiction.


  • The Department of Education and the Office of National Drug Control Policy collaborated together on a three-part miniseries to help schools and educators understand and effectively address the connection between substance use, mental health, and student learning. The first webinar focused on what data on youth substance use tells us and how it can inform student support systems. The second webinar highlighted a variety of evidence-based approaches schools and their communities can take to address youth substance use and mental health needs. The third webinar reviewed several funding sources that are available to support schools in implementing evidence-based mental health and substance use prevention programs.
  • As we continue to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic, watch this recorded webinar to hear from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Department of Education on recent trends in adolescent substance use and strategies for preventing substance use within multi-tiered system of supports.
  • Watch this recorded webinar to learn more the role of peer recovery support services in substance use disorder prevention.
  • Watch this recorded webinar to learn more about how education agencies can plan for opioid and drug-related emergencies and substance abuse prevention in all settings and at all times.
  • The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy produced a school resource guide for teachers, administrators, and staff to help educate and protect students from substance abuse.
  • Watch this recorded webinar to learn more about how Institutions of Higher Education are providing support to students recovering from opioid, alcohol, stimulants, and other drug or substance abuse disorders, or know of someone who may be recovering, through collegiate recovery programs and similar initiatives.
  • Watch this recorded webinar to learn more about how the opioid crisis is impacting our schools and students, and review strategies that could support students impacted by the crisis.
  • The Drug Enforcement Agency's Campus Drug Prevention website provides information about drug abuse prevention programs on college campuses and in surrounding communities.
  • Operation Prevention educates students about the impacts of opioids and encourages conversations in the home and classroom.
  • Drug, Brains, and Behavior discusses why adolescence is a critical time for preventing drug addiction.
  • Get a free opioid overdose prevention toolkit.
  • Find information about recovery high schools that support performance and empower access to student recovery.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides an evidence-based practices resource center.
  • Interventions [PDF, 351KB] to support infants, toddlers, children, and youth impacted by opioids.

What should students know and do?

  • The social behavior of students affects the success of schools as learning environments.
  • Risk-related behaviors are a barrier to academic gains and healthy lifestyles.
  • Students should know about the dangers of opioid misuse and illicit drug use.
  • They should be supported in developing decision-making skills and in developing understanding about ways to resist pressure to experiment with and misuse drugs.
  • They should know when and where to seek help either for their own opioid use disorders or addiction issues or for dealing with issues arising from misuse, addiction and overdose by friends or family members.


  • Learn how drug use affects the brains of teens.
  • Students can get the facts about drugs.
  • Confidentially and anonymously find information on treatment facilities in the United States and U.S Territories for substance misuse, addiction or mental health support.
  • Share your story about how you overcame addiction, volunteered at a recovery center, or worked as a family to help a loved one through recovery.
  • Do you have questions about opioids, the national epidemic, or where to find a local treatment center near you? The Office of the National Drug Control Policy, the Ad Council and Truth Initiative have partnered together to help.

How can parents and guardians of students help?

  • Educated and empowered parents and guardians are the first line of defense in preventing opioid misuse and illicit drug use by students.
  • The Department of Education partnered with the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration to release a new version of the popular publication, Growing Up Drug-Free: A Parent's Guide to Substance Use Prevention. The Guide includes an overview of substance use among children, youth, and young adults, and includes suggestions for how to talk to young people about alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, tailored to their age group, along with tips on what to do if you suspect your child is using alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs. The Guide is also available in Spanish.


Does the Department have funding and other assistance available to help schools address the opioid crisis?

  • The Department has a long history of promoting substance misuse prevention in schools, through programs, products and targeted technical assistance.
  • The Department's Office of Safe and Supportive Schools administers grant programs and other technical assistance centers that can help State and local education agencies and schools address opioid misuse prevention, promote school safety and create supportive school climates.


  • The Office of Safe and Supportive Schools is committed to serving States and school communities by providing resources, direct support and technical assistance on topics that affect the well-being, health and safety of our nation's young people.
  • The Rural Community Toolbox is an interactive online tool to assist rural community leaders to assess the causes and impact of substance use disorder and find federal resources and programs to help build strong healthy drug-free rural communities.

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