Opioid misuse and overdose continue to devastate individuals, families, and communities across the nation, exacerbated by the isolation, economic challenges, and service gaps produced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As states work to address the pressing needs of people struggling with opioid addiction, many continue to embrace “upstream” solutions, including educational programming for children and teens, that focus on preventing opioid and other substance use before they develop into problems.
Connecticut is among those states. In June 2020, Prevention Solutions@EDC completed an online toolkit that Connecticut educators can use to support the development of effective and sustainable substance misuse prevention efforts in their schools. The new resources, developed in collaboration with Connecticut’s State Education Resource Center (SERC) with funding from Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Service, will be piloted in two Connecticut communities during the upcoming school year.
“We know that opioid-related problems tend to affect young and older adults more than children and adolescents. But we also know that early experiences greatly influence people’s risk for developing these and related problems later in life,” says Melanie Adler, a senior project director at EDC. “K-12 schools are uniquely positioned to shape young people’s early experiences in ways that can help prevent and reduce opioid and other substance misuse among the students in their care.”
To develop the toolkit, the team wove together guiding principles from the fields of education and public health, combining best practices in effective pedagogy and child development with an understanding of systems change and the array factors that can contribute to, as well as protect against, harmful behavior.
The toolkit contains three components: a guidance document, self-assessment tool, and list of school-based substance misuse prevention programs.
The guidance document presents a high-level overview of what constitutes effective Tier 1 substance misuse prevention, including tips for assembling a core planning team, an overview of factors that influence student substance misuse at different development stages, and a review of school-based prevention strategies to address these factors. Tier 1 programs and practices are designed to help reduce risk for and boost protection against opioid and other substance misuse among all students in all schools, regardless of risk level.
“Our goal was to help schools better understand their prevention needs and the prevention science, and to begin thinking about their prevention efforts more holistically,” says Adler.
The guidance document is accompanied by a user-friendly self-assessment tool that school-based prevention planning teams can use to record and assess their Tier 1 substance misuse prevention efforts—specifically, which prevention efforts they want to continue as is, which should be improved, which should be discontinued, and what gaps exist that should be filled.
The document is also accompanied by a list of 80 different school-based prevention programs, culled from a review of programs and practices included in SAMHSA’s now-defunct National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP) and in Facing Addiction in America: Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health.
“The three resources are meant to work hand-in-hand,” says Adler. “Our hope is that educators will share them with their prevention partners to critically examine—with an eye toward improving—their schools’ existing prevention efforts.”
To learn more about PS@EDC’s ongoing collaboration with SERC, contact Melanie Adler at firstname.lastname@example.org.