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States Ramp Up Efforts to Combat Student Substance Abuse


Alexandria, Va.—Added concerns about the pandemic’s impact on youth mental and physical health and recent spikes in adolescent mortality rates due to illicit fentanyl use have spurred some states to reexamine how they approach substance abuse education and prevention in schools, according to a new NASBE policy update.

In 2021, 31.6 percent of high schoolers reported using a tobacco product, alcohol, or marijuana or misusing prescription opioids during the preceding 30 days, according to the Adolescent Behaviors and Experience Survey, conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the prevalence of substance use was lower than before the pandemic, one in three students who had ever used alcohol or other drugs reported using these substances more during the pandemic.

This analysis explores how several states have shifted curriculum, training, and resources for prevention of youth opioid use:

  • The Virginia State Board of Education approved new curriculum guidelines for instruction on the risks of prescription drug abuse in June 2021, focusing on health literacy for school leaders, empowering teachers, and providing collaborative supports and resources to students.
  • The New York Board of Regents released new guidance for substance abuse prevention education in December 2020.
  • State education agencies in Ohio and Pennsylvania introduced the Health and Opioid-abuse Prevention Education curriculum for teaching substance abuse prevention in schools.
  • West Virginia began a pilot of the Game Changers In-School Prevention Program in fall 2022, which connects students to peer leadership and trains school counselors and educators in how to support those who are addicted to substances or at risk of becoming addicted.
  • California recently invested $4.7 billion in state mental health systems, which includes training for 40,000 more behavioral health professionals and establishing universal screening and support services for young people.

Youth vaping is also of growing concern, with a reported 14 percent of high schoolers and around 3 percent of middle schoolers now using e-cigarettes. In 2019, several states adopted legislation on adolescent vaping, and the federal government raised the minimum age for sale of tobacco products to 21 years.

“Many state policymakers have sought to curb substance abuse and help schools ensure that students have the supports and information they need to thrive,” writes NASBE’s Joseph Hedger. “States seeking to improve student mental health will likewise want to identify ways to address the root causes that often underlie substance abuse.”

Read and share Supporting School Efforts to Combat Substance Abuse.

NASBE serves as the only membership organization for state boards of education. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, NASBE elevates state board members’ voices in national and state policymaking, facilitates the exchange of informed ideas, and supports members in advancing equity and excellence in public education for students of all races, genders, and circumstances. Learn more at www.nasbe.org.

This publication is supported by cooperative agreement CDC-RFA-PS18-1807, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views or endorsement of the CDC or the Department of Health and Human Services.

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