How the heroin and opioid epidemic is impacting schools

Photo of a school bus. (WISH Photo)

BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY,Ind. (WISH) – The numbers in the heroin and opioid epidemic add up to a challenge for communities. According to the Bartholomew County Chief Deputy Coroner, in the first six months of the year, there have been nearly three times as many overdose calls to the Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center as there were in the same time frame last year. The number of deadly drug overdoses has also increased.

Those are numbers the schools can’t ignore.

“It happens enough in our community where our kids are, there’s no magic umbrella around them,” said Larry Perkinson, Employee and Students Assistance Coordinator for the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation.

Ask Perkinson what he does in that role and he will tell you: “I troubleshoot.”

He works on everything from hunger to transportation to drug and alcohol issues.

“Certainly alcohol continues to be devastating or crisis moments for a lot of families but it’s not the one we hear first. It’s heroin, the prescription pills,” he said.

He says one of the first effects of the heroin crisis that they could openly see last year was the need for a new bus driver, to pick up kids who were removed from their homes and placed outside of the county.

“We have young people who were in Bartholomew County one moment who might be in Jackson, Jennings County,” Perkinson said, “Every time you move a child, studies say they fall three to six months behind in their education if they move without supports. So, keeping them in the same school where they can make connections, where the teachers know them well enough to be able to ask if they need help for one thing or another is the best thing that any of us can do for kids.”

He says they’ve also applied for grants to help improve their counseling base for what he believes is still to come.

“In the next two years, we’ll have a lot of people who come to our schools, who will have lived in a household where the parent they said ‘Goodbye’ to in the morning is not the emotionally, physically same one they greet in the evenings, and that’s not going to be everybody, but that’s going to be a percentage of our kids,” he said.

They’ve also added Naloxone to their schools, which is often referred to as Narcan and is used to reverse an opioid overdose, to their schools.

“If we’re going to acknowledge that we have an epidemic proportion of heroin incidents use problems how can we not asked yourself what we need to be prepared for,” Perkinson said.

So two years ago, the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation put Naloxone in schools farthest from police stations and hospitals. Last year, they put it in all of their schools.

“Probably in every community, schools are the most visited facility that we have. We have adults, families, we have aunts, uncles, grandparents we have people who come here for all kinds of events and for us, it was, we need to be prepared if something happens to one of those,” Perkinson said.

“We never thought we’d have to use it, but I guess you never say never,” said Columbus police officer and school resource officer Julie Quesenbery who used Narcan to save a student’s life.

“I grabbed the Narcan and ran down the hallway, only to find her passed out in the bathroom with pills scattered about. Judging on what I’d seen there and my training, I think really common sense prevailed in that moment where I know Narcan won’t hurt her and I have reason to believe at this point it could actually help her based on what I was looking at and so I used Narcan on her and you know, she came to after her second round of Narcan,” Quesenbery said.

A new law, that went info effect last month, allows schools to stock Naloxone and allows for school nurses and school employees who have received training to administer it.

It’s unclear how many schools across the state have it, because according to a spokesperson for the Indiana Department of Education, schools are not required to report if they stock any, only if they administer it. According to the spokesperson, most schools have not stocked Naloxone in the past, so they don’t have any reports about the number of times it has been used in schools.

In the last year, Beech Grove City Schools also made the decision to have Naloxone in the schools.

“We have two doses available in all of our clinics, even in the lower grades,” Superintendent Dr. Paul Kaiser said, “Because many cases it might not be a student, but a parent who’s visiting that might be using and we have to step up and help.”

Dr. Kaiser said in the district they are also helping a percentage of students who were impacted by drugs before they were even born.

“I think many of our students today are dealing with a kind of generation of drug use, almost from a hereditary standpoint. Some of these kids’ parents were utilizing some type of drug during the pregnancy process and research says that carries over to their ability to learn. So, we have a small percentage of our kids that just really struggle mightily because of what they were born with and has created a larger number of students that are in special education because of what took place during that pregnancy stage,” he said.

He says they’ve hired three special education teachers this year to help with the needs of emotionally-challenged kids, some of which can be tied back to drug use by parents. And he says teachers have taken on more roles, counseling and nurturing students who may not be prepared to learn because of what’s taking place at home.

“We have students that email teachers at all hours of the night trying to reach out to them so that’s what were for,” Dr. Kaiser said.

Teaching, trouble shooting and navigating kids through all they are facing.

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