Alaska is considering adding opioid drug education to its elementary school curriculums.
Alaska has been one of the hardest-hit states by the opioid crisis. Over the last decade, the state has been averaging more than 130 overdose deaths per year, which is particularly high given the low overall population of the state. In an effort to potentially get ahead of the problem and move the statistics into a better direction, the state is considering the development and implementation of a new curriculum meant to educate children in the public elementary school system about the dangers of opioids. Although no action has yet been taken, the fact that this is a topic under consideration by legislators speaks to the seriousness of the crisis.
The person primarily responsible for bringing up this topic in the Alaska legislature is Rep. George Rauscher. The initial recommendation is for a lesson plan to be developed that is one hour long and is targeted at grades six through twelve. While the passage of this bill would compel the state to develop such a curriculum, it would not impose the requirement to teach that curriculum on individual school districts.
In a day and age when it is tough to get unified support from both major political parties on just about any issue, there seems to be some agreement among Alaska lawmakers on both sides that something needs to be done. With both republicans and democrats signaling a willingness to work on this issue, the chances of passing a bill to support youth mental health are much higher than they would be if more partisan politics were involved.
There is, of course, already a health curriculum in place for the state’s schools, but opioids are left out of the conversation. Given the particular risk to young people as opioids become more and more available, the lack of any discussion of this critical public health issue within a health curriculum may be a hole that needs to be filled.
While there is no debate about the seriousness of the opioid issue, there are questions from some in legislature regarding whether or not this approach would be effective. There was a widespread anti-drug campaign used in school districts in the 1990s, and little benefit was seen from those efforts. The biggest debate on this topic may wind up being not about the importance of the opioid crisis but rather about whether or not the schools are the right place to fight the battle. Parents and other decision-makers outside of the elementary school systems may not want their children even exposed to information about opioids and their effects, for example. If it is decided that resources could be used in other places to help slow the opioid tide, lawmakers may pass on pushing for a curriculum change.
It’s yet to be seen if the state of Alaska will put a curriculum into place to speak directly with young people about the risks of opioid use and addiction. If any such strategy is used, it will hopefully have a positive impact and quickly bring down the number of people, young and old, who are being lost to this crisis.
Opioid education program for grades 6 to 12 considered by Alaska lawmakers
Alaska Department of Health: 2021 Drug Overdose Mortality Update
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