Education News

How Ohio’s Sen. Brown is helping America’s schools face the opioid crisis

By Amanda Litvinov

With little fanfare, Congress passed a bipartisan package of opioid legislation last fall focused on providing long-term treatment and recovery and stopping the flow of illegal drugs into the country.

Thanks largely to the efforts of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) the sweeping legislation also includes grants for schools to add trauma-informed services and mental health supports for students affected by the opioid crisis.

Ohio guidance counselor Bridgette Malone.

The promise of more help for kids whose lives have been upended by the deadliest and most widespread drug epidemic in our nation’s history gives hope to Ohioans like high school guidance counselor Bridgette Malone.

She says many students at Rock Hill High School in Ironton have a markedly different outlook than the cohort she graduated with at this very school just over a decade ago.

“By the time they’re in high school, the kids think it’s normal—drug use and overdoses and people in your family getting arrested. Like that’s just something that happens,” Malone says.

She works with many teens who are at greater risk of depression, anxiety, and engaging in risky behaviors having grown up with adults using drugs, research shows. Malone can also refer Rock Hill students with substance abuse problems to a drug counselor if they request help.

That’s a good thing, of course. But experts agree the best way to break the cycle of drug abuse is to address students’ physical and mental health needs long before they engage in risky behaviors themselves.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH)

Several provisions that Sen. Brown introduced or co-sponsored aim to help schools do just that, by providing an infusion of resources for K-12 schools in communities hit hard by the opioid crisis.

Roughly 9 million children live in households with at least one parent who has a substance use disorder, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. That’s one out of every eight children age 17 or younger.

The grant program established through the opioid legislation encourages school districts to partner with local mental health care systems to provide screenings, referrals, and treatment for students. Research shows that responding swiftly to students in crisis and acknowledging the effects of toxic stress on their lives are key to helping them cope with trauma.

Grants can also be used to provide trauma-informed supports in a full-service community school–a model that NEA supports—to provide a more comprehensive array of academic, social, and health services for students and sometimes for their families.

The opioid legislation supports professional development for educators, and creates a task force to develop best practices to help non-parental caregivers nurture children dealing with trauma.

“One of the biggest changes we’ve seen is the number of students who are living with grandparents or somebody else other than their parents,” says Malone.

Parental substance abuse isn’t always the reason kids can’t live at home, but the rate of child removals in many states, including Ohio, increased drastically as the opioid crisis worsened.

“It’s hard on kids when their parents are in jail or just unfit to be raising them,” Malone says. “These kids still love their mom and dad, and it’s really hard on them when they aren’t feeling the love back.”


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