Skip to main content

Project: Helping West Virginia’s Educators Navigate the Opioid Epidemic

West Virginia


This initiative will assist WVDE in developing tools and trainings for educators to better address the opioid epidemic.  In the out years, the work will expand to other states through peer-to-peer exchanges. 

High-Leverage Problem

The opioid epidemic has besieged communities across West Virginia. As West Virginia Representative Carol Miller noted, “[s]outhern West Virginia is ground zero for the opioid epidemic” (WVNews, 2019). According to 2017 data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), West Virginia leads the Nation in opioid related death rates (49.6 per 100,000 deaths). (CDC, 2019) Researchers at WVU recently reported that while deaths from prescribed opioids have declined between 2005 and 2017, deaths from fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (FAs) spiked by 122 percent (Dai, et al, 2019). Although the State has made some headway on reducing the number of prescription opioid fatalities, fentanyl and other illicit drugs are taking their place, suggesting that the epidemic is far from under control.

Given the magnitude and severity of the opioid epidemic in the State, all agencies and communities must work together not only on intervention and prevention programs for individuals, but also to address the ripple effects felt throughout families and communities. For example, as the number of opioid users and deaths have increased across West Virginia, so has the number of children placed in foster care. Between 2008 and 2017, the number of children in foster care increased 50 percent to 6,633 children; the State now the highest rates of children in foster care in the Nation at 17.9 per 1,000 children (Williams, S.C. & Sepulveda, K., 2019). Researchers at Child Trends believe that the opioid epidemic is driving the increased placement of children in foster care (ibid)

The epidemic is also seeping into classrooms. Children and youth living with parents or caretakers who use substances do not leave their trauma at the school door. Researchers at WVU have found that teachers across the state are not equipped to handle the effects of the opioid epidemic in their classrooms.

Specifically: Over 70 percent of teachers reported an increase in students impacted by substance use in the home; 70 percent to teachers reported not receiving training specific to children impacted by parent/caregiver substance use; and While 70 percent of West Virginia teachers report an increase in students impacted by substance use in the home, only 10 percent of teachers feel confident in knowing how to support children with parents or caregivers who use substances. (Anderson, S.; Troilo, J.; and Tack, F., 2019).

The WVU team presented its findings to the West Virginia State Board of Education in March 2019 and have been working with the WVDE Office of Special Education, which has been leading efforts to combat the epidemic to discuss strategies to provide teachers with the tools and training they need to navigate this trauma in their classrooms. In doing our part to address the opioid epidemic, the Region 5 team has developed a project to support teachers and other school personnel in navigating the opioid crisis. Region 5 is starting this project in West Virginia given the challenges the State is facing. No matter how dire the epidemic has been for the State, we agree with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin that the State is now “ground zero for recovery efforts” (WVNews, 2019). WVDE can support educators with curriculum and training focused on the magnitude, complexity, and nuances of how to address opioid-related issues in the classroom.

Approach to Capacity Building Services

This initiative also aligns with West Virginia’s ESSA State Plan on the use of Title IV-A SEA funds. The SEA noted “[e]ducators across the State have expressed a need for support and technical assistance in this area particularly in increasing school-level knowledge and resources to address the educational instability that the State’s drug epidemic causes for our students”. WVDE indicated in its State Plan that it will use its 4 percent Title IV-A set aside to address the effects of the epidemic on schools. (West Virginia Department of Education, 2018).