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Educators don’t see increase in opioid use among students

Krystle Wagner • Aug 22, 2017 at 1:00 PM

Although opioid overdose deaths are on the rise throughout the country, local school officials say they aren’t seeing an increase of use among their students.

“We have not seen the epidemic rise in opioid issues within our schools like we are seeing nationally,” said Grand Haven Area Public Schools Superintendent Andy Ingall. “The data we see for our region indicates the significant increase in use post-high school.”

According to the 2015 Ottawa County Youth Assessment Survey, 65 percent of students reported never using any drugs listed in the survey such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, hallucinogens and methamphetamine. The survey also asked students about using prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

Other than a single incident a few years ago, Spring Lake Public Schools Superintendent Dennis Furton said they haven’t experienced an increase in discussion among students.

“That said, we do understand that use is on the rise,” he said, “and we will continue to tune into this issue and look for evidence that use at school or in general amongst students is on the rise.”

Spring Lake students begin drug education in middle school health classes.

Eighth-graders in health classes at Grand Haven’s Lakeshore Middle School use national and local data to complete informational projects and present them in a round-robin way. Students pull information and match them with definitions. Between 15 and 22 drugs are covered and discussions follow, said Erin Carmody, a Lakeshore Middle School teacher.

This year, projects also included opioids.

“The purpose of the project is to practice the seven health skills, reinforce refusal skills and increase knowledge of the dangers of drugs,” Carmody said.

Grand Haven High School students research specific drugs, which are based on the results of the Ottawa County Youth Assessment Survey. Students look at aspects such as the effects of drug use, legal classification and commonly abused drugs.

Jodi Heard, a GHHS teacher, said she also starts the unit talking about addiction.

Grand Haven and Central high schools will have Naloxone, also known as Narcan, on hand this year.

“While we have not experienced an opioid overdose on any of our school campuses, we will be prepared for such an emergency,” Ingall said.

Local districts also have policies in place if students are suspected to be using drugs or under the influence of alcohol. In Spring Lake, such a student is suspended, referred to law enforcement, and referred for screening and counseling. 

In Grand Haven, suspected use is reported to administrators for an investigation and assessment. Ingall said student codes of conduct include discipline protocol based on the outcome of the investigation.

Furton said he believes it’s an issue that must involve law enforcement and parents.

“Our emphasis is on communicating with parents if we have a concern about their child,” he said. “Student safety and communication with parents is always our first priority with any issue related to drug use.”

Ingall said he finds the national crisis “sad and disheartening.”

“It is unfortunate that young adults are using and dying from opioid overdoses,” he said. “We must all do our best to educate those in our circles of influence of the risks associated with substance use and abuse, and come to understand the danger of ‘gateway’ drugs — a habit forming drug that, while not itself addictive, may lead to the use of other addictive drugs — can pose.”

Muskegon Community College is focusing its efforts on education and prevention.

Eli Fox, manager of student success and veteran affairs at MCC, said they don’t keep track of the statistics, and she can’t comment on what they’ve seen. But Fox said they understand there’s a crisis and students are talking about it.

Last fall, MCC started working with the Grand Rapids Red Project to train staff and students on the signs and symptoms of an overdose and how to administer Narcan.

The Red Project is a nonprofit based in Grand Rapids and has a chapter in Muskegon. The organization is “dedicated to improving health, reducing risk and preventing HIV,” according to its website.

Echo Brown, a recovery coach in Muskegon, said the training can be beneficial for friends, family and other people in the community who might overdose on prescription opioids. Brown said you never know when you might need to act quickly.

“It’s a life-saving training,” she said.

Additionally, MCC does work regarding alcohol abuse, prevention and awareness, Fox said, and partners with Health West, formerly Muskegon County Community Mental Health, in regards to mental health and suicide prevention.

“When it comes to health and wellness, that’s important, too, for our students to be successful,” Fox said. “It’s not something we would shy away from if it would help our students.”

In Grand Haven, the community can participate in monthly training sessions that take 15-20 minutes each. Training is done on a drop-in basis. Camille Hoorn, a recovery coach in Grand Rapids and overdose outreach coordinator for Ottawa and Allegan counties for the Red Project, hosts the sessions from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the third Friday of every month at The Momentum Center, 714 Columbus Ave. 

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