School Nurses and The Opioid Crisis

school nurses opioid crisisThe opioid epidemic is reaching all parts of the country and affecting people of all ages. Unfortunately, high school students are also becoming addicted to opioids. As a school nurse, you can have a role in dealing with the crisis. 

What do the Statistics Say?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Adolescent Health, in 2016, over 4000 young adults between age 15 and 24 died due to a drug overdose. Of those deaths, over 50% were due to opioids.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevent estimates that for every overdose death, there are 120 emergency room visits due to overdoses. Opioid use is not only life-threatening, but it can also lead to a variety of other issues, such as family problems, poor school performance, and mental health issues.

How School Nurses Can Help

School nurses are on the front lines when it comes to fighting the opioid epidemic. School nurses can help fight the opioid crisis in the following ways:

Responding to Drug Overdoses

An opioid overdose is deadly in part because the drugs depress the drive to breathe. People that overdose on opioids often stop breathing. School nurses may be the first responder to treat a student that has overdosed. Nurses should be trained on how to respond to overdose emergencies.

Part of the emergency response is to administer naloxone, which is a medication that can reverse the effects of opioids. If administered quickly, it can restore breathing and prevent death.

The National Association of School Nurses is in support of school nurses administering naloxone. Some schools in the country have the drug on hand as part of their emergency preparation plan, but all schools should be prepared.

Staff Education

Most schools only have one or two school nurses on-site. Teachers and school counselors interact with students every day. But not all teachers are well informed about drug abuse, which is where school nurses can help.

School nurses can be a part of educating staff regarding opioid use. Nurses can provide training to school staff on the signs of substance abuse and ways to effectively work with students that are struggling with addiction.

Developing Prevention Programs

When it comes to the opioid crisis, one of the most important roles of school nurses is implementing prevention programs. There are several drug abuse prevention program models that school nurses can choose from or they can develop their own curriculum.

A drug abuse prevention program should provide information on the misuse of prescription medication, as well as illegal drugs. It should also address how drug abuse impacts the individual user and the entire family.

A prevention program helps students develop alternative ways to deal with stress and learn how to make good choices. Information should also be available including resources for students and parents on available assistance for drug addiction.

If you work as a school nurse, what tools and resources have been effective for combating the opioid crisis?


School nurses can play a major part in helping prevent medication abuse in students, along with other therapists and school professionals. Become a crucial part of a students’ school support system in a new position. Check out our latest openings here.

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