A Tough Pill To Swallow: How States Are Facilitating School Responses to Youth Opioid Overdoses

From the small towns of Appalachia and the rural Deep South to the college towns in the heartland, the heights of the Ozarks and Smokey Mountains, the vacation destinations of the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts, and beyond, abuse and misuse of illicit or prescribed opioids is an epidemic without boundaries. Indeed, every state in the South has suffered dearly from this crisis. Nearly one in four (or 24.9 percent) individuals aged 12 or older reported illicit drug use or abuse in the past year. According to the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, more than 3.5 million youth between the ages of 12 and 17 misused prescription or illicit drugs in the past year – including more than 420,000 who used or misused opiates. Most of these individuals (44.6 percent) reported receiving, stealing, or purchasing opioids from friends or relatives, while another 41.3 percent were prescribed or stolen from a healthcare provider. Others bought from a drug dealer or other unknown individual (8.5 percent) or obtained the drugs some other way (5.6 percent).

This is especially troubling given the seven states that dispense opioids at the highest rate are in the South – Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Tennessee – making youth in these states inherently more vulnerable to exposure to these dangerous drugs.

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