Opioid Crisis Another Dilemma for Urban Education

Story by Micah Ali

When President Donald Trump dramatically declared the opioid crisis a “national health emergency” a month ago, he was announcing the grim reality that those of us working for and in low-income communities of color have faced on the ground for a generation—that opioids and other drugs kill and destroy hope.

In mainstream American society, climbing the rungs of the socioeconomic ladder is a laborious undertaking, particularly in communities where poverty is nearly impossible to escape. Racial and ethnic minorities in urban areas have historically struggled with economic hardships. Where our state and federal laws have criminalized drug addictions, opioids just add to the other challenges in our communities—and especially in our schools.

While opioid addictions are exposed as being more prevalent in white, rural America, there are endless accounts of how these addictions have penetrated the walls of, and terrorized, poor inner-city neighborhoods. This scourge of drug abuse in urban communities extends back as early as the 1960s and continues to devastate urban communities in 2017.

In a study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, researchers concluded through data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2011 and 2012) that “… adults living in America’s cities abuse prescription opioid medications significantly more often than adults living in the nation’s rural areas.” 

They partially attribute the higher rate of opioid medication abuse in urban areas to city-dwelling adults’ higher intake of substances in general and attribute the higher urban rate of opioid medication abuse to the greater level of inappropriate consumption of drugs, medications, and alcohol during childhood, as well as the relatively early age at which urban-dwelling children typically first get involved in substance use.

As a result, overdose rates in our urban communities have more than doubled among Black Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans.

Now we have learned that both pharmaceutical manufacturers and doctors are complicit through overprescribing opioids, and that neither federal nor local authorities have developed penalties for this practice, revealing an unconscionable lack of concern for victims.

Nevertheless, urban schools and school districts are developing multifaceted approaches to effectively teach and work with students and families. 

Some of these efforts include: well-developed education and prevention efforts beginning in early elementary school; professional development for teachers and staff on opioids and their effects; increased school-based counseling services, school-based mental health services, and school-based medical and health access; partnerships with outside agencies that provide services and access for students and families in need; and having school-stocked Naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug, on hand.

Our school districts, cities, counties, regions, states, and educators must come together and develop our own approaches to confronting this scourge in our schools if the next generation is to continue our forward momentum as the future leaders and foundations of tomorrow.

I am calling on my colleagues to create a national summit on the opioid problem in our schools and to begin crafting solutions that can dovetail with those developed by the federal government.

Micah Ali ( is a member of California’s Compton Unified School District and the 2017-18 chair of the CUBE steering committee. 


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