The results of a unique survey illustrate the harms that the opioid epidemic has inflicted not only on young children, but their education as well. Teachers surveyed throughout West Virginia reported feeling “burned out” from having to deal with students affected by opioid abuse at home.
Among the 2,205 teachers surveyed across 49 counties, 70% say they observed a rise in the number of kids who are affected by substance abuse at home. Only 10% of teachers say they felt confident in knowing how to support students in this situation.
The survey’s findings were presented to the state Board of Education in March.
“The comments from the teachers were pretty shocking. We expected to hear that the opioid epidemic had an impact in classrooms, but not to this extent,” said Frankie Tack, addiction studies minor coordinator and clinical assistant professor at West Virginia University.
When kids are not taken care of at home, they carry those needs to the classroom.
“Teachers talked about having to wash the kids’ clothes at school. Letting kids not participate in class and go over to a corner on a mat and sleep because they hadn’t gotten sleep the night before because people were in and out of the home. Having extra snacks during the day because they don’t have enough food at home. Just all kinds of things that normally wouldn’t happen in the classroom,” said Tack.
These kids not only affect teachers, their behavior affects other students as well.
“What we’re also seeing is that the impact on students extends beyond those with direct experience with substance use disorders at home,” said another researcher Jessica Troilo, associate professor in the Department of Learning Sciences and Human Development. “The students who don’t have those experiences at home are witnessing behaviors in the classroom that they aren’t accustomed to. This is what we call the tertiary effect of higher classroom stress linked to the opioid crisis.”
The goal of the study is to use the findings to develop a teacher training module for dealing with the effects of addiction in the classroom, to implement statewide.
“West Virginia teachers are in desperate need of support in this area, and that’s what we hope to provide,” said Troilo.
Based on the findings, the research team recommends more training for teachers on how to handle students affected by substance use disorder, and how to interact with their families. They also recommend increasing support from counselors and other mental health professionals, and providing teachers information on 12-step support groups for friends and family members.
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