Betsy Devos and Department of Education Tackle Opioid Crisis

According to ‘Combating Substance Abuse in Schools,’ the January 17, 2019, edition of the United States Department of Education’s official blog, Homeroom, recent increases in substance abuse have had a major impact on K-12 students. In order to support students affected by the problem, The DOE, under the leadership of Secretary Betsy Devos, organized a series of three seminars designed for teachers and administrators.


In recognition of January 2019’s National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week (NDAFW), the department released the signs that indicate a student might be affected by alcohol, opioid or other substance abuse, together with strategies to help identify and support them.


Impact of opioid crisis in students


In addition to those students who may be struggling with addiction and substance abuse issues of their own, the parents or siblings affected by the opioid crisis peripherally impact on K-12 students in a number of ways:



  • Kids who live with a parent or guardian struggling with opioid addiction miss more days of school.


  • Displaced and orphaned children live with grandparents or enter the foster care system.




The first webinar in the series was held on April 26, 2018. Speaking were Dr. Wilson Compton, Deputy Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, who outlined the history and demographics of the opioid crisis and discussed how neuroscience can help inform drug prevention strategies in the school setting.


Reginald Burke, Director of the Maryland state Department of Education’s Youth Development Branch, gave a talk on Maryland’s multi-tiered statewide practice and policy strategies for dealing with the opioid crisis. Governor Hogan, who declared a state of emergency in the state and allocated $50 million over five years to address the opioid epidemic, formed the Opioid Operational Command Center. The primary mission of the OOCC is to coordinate activities between local, state, and federal agencies.


The third speaker, McKenzie Harrington-Bacote, offered her perspective as Grants Administrator of Laconia, New Hampshire’s, Office of Student Wellness. Among other topics, she discussed the pros and cons of on-site Narcan for emergency use in schools and presented case studies of local students who had experienced family bereavements resulting from opioid use.


The second webinar took place on December 19, 2018. Speaking here were Frank Brogan, from the DOE Office of Elementary and Secondary Education; Mary Ann Gapinski from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and Jeff Hawkins from the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative.


The third webinar in the series has yet to take place. The existence of these webinars and the wealth of other resources provided by the Department of Education, help to underline Secretary Devos’ sensitivity to the problem of opioid addiction and its effects on students, and her commitment to supporting K-12 students to help them eliminate distractions and allow them to concentrate on obtaining the most from the learning environment and achieving their full potential.


Betsy Devos has devoted her life to seeking innovative ways of funding and providing K-12 education. She first became involved when her own children were growing up. She has spent more than 30 years in the field and worked tirelessly by liaising with government and private industry.


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