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A Crisis in the Classroom: Teachers and the West Virginia Opioid Epidemic

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Crisis in the Classroom

West Virginia Teachers and the Opioid Epidemic

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Increased Impact on Schools

Over 70% of teachers report an increase in students impacted by substance use in the home.

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Need for Specific Teacher Training

Despite the increased numbers of students impacted, over 70% of teachers reported not receiving training specific to children impacted by parent/caregiver substance use.

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Reliance on Colleagues for Support

80% of educators rely on fellow teachers and administrators for resources to better support students.

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Teacher Confidence

Only 7% of teachers reported feeling ‘very confident’ in supporting children who are impacted by a parent or caregiver with an addiction.

West Virginia struggles with the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country. Children whose parents struggle with a substance use disorder bring experiences of neglect, trauma, and mental health issues to school.

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Some students are so fixated on “survival” that learning is not a priority for them.

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I used to be energetic and love teaching kindergarten. Now, however, I am fearful for what each school year brings.

And teachers are seeing the effects in the classroom.

Within this context, our research team sought to examine teachers’ experience of the opioid epidemic in the classroom. What student behaviors are challenging for teachers? Are teachers well-equipped? Who should help them through challenges stemming from the opioid crisis? We describe initial results of an anonymous online survey of 2,818 West Virginia teachers (in 54 counties) who were asked to anonymously report on their classroom experiences. The results paint a grim picture of the challenges facing West Virginia teachers.

Mismatch between Classroom Behaviors and Teacher Preparedness

For many classroom behaviors we asked about common behaviors in the classroom. Teachers reported suppression, low motivation, errors in judgement, hyperactivity, and immaturity as extremely common behaviors, but also reported low confidence in managing those behaviors.

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For those children that I do recognize are coming from homes of addiction or are broken for some reason or another, I know they need more support in the classroom, I just don’t know what supports those are or how to deliver them.

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Do I have the right to reach out and offer resources and services to get the parent help? To open and honestly talk to the parent about their addiction? Is that overstepping?

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Teach? We are no longer just teaching. Teachers and administrators are now counselors, policemen, CPS workers, food pantries, friends, and teachers.

Most teachers (70%) experienced at least occasional burnout – emotional exhaustion, cynicism, lack of personal accomplishment – on a monthly basis. One-third of teachers experienced burnout frequently. With over 206 open professional positions in the state, burnout may lead to an increase in teacher shortages.


Based on results from this survey, we provide the following recommendations, drawing upon best practices in education, addiction studies, and child and family studies.

Teachers need additional training on topics including:

  • Effects of addiction on family systems and children.
  • Classroom strategies for common behavioral manifestations related to common yet challenging student behaviors.
  • Parent and family interaction strategies.

Establish support infrastructure for teachers, including components such as:

  • Increased staff support for teachers and students in regard to trainings in addition (such social worker, counselors, principals).
  • Mentoring/peer support/buddy system programs to facilitate regular problem solving around classroom challenges.
  • Regular, facilitated meetings to discuss experiences with other teachers, engage in productive conversation, and share common and effective strategies.

Provide concrete resources to teachers, including:

  • Local/regional addiction services to distribute to parents, families, and staff.
  • HELP4WV cards: A helpline for people struggling with addiction or mental health issues.
  • Al-Anon/ Nar-Anon Support Groups: Support groups aimed for friends or family members of alcoholics or those addicted to narcotics.
  • National Association for Children of Addiction (NACoA) educator kits.

Curbing the downstream effects of the opioid crisis on West Virginia’s children will take effort and resources. Those outlined above are a critical first step to make a positive impact on our children and our state.


Dr. Sara Anderson is a Senior Research Scientist at Child Trend.

Dr. Jessica Troilo is  the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs for the College of Education and Human Services and an Associate Professor in the Learning Sciences and Human Development at West Virginia University.

Ms. Frankie Tack is the Addiction Studies Minor Coordinator and Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Counseling, Rehabilitation Counseling, and Counseling Psychology at West Virginia University.

Mrs. Lauren Prinzo is an Assistant Professors and Extension Specialist in Community and Economic Development at West Virginia University.

Mrs. Megan Mikesell is a graduate student in the College of Education and Human Services working towards her doctorate in Human Development and Family Studies.

Mrs. Sloane Strauss is a graduate student in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences working towards her doctorate in Life-Span Developmental Psychology.

This report was supported by small grant funding from the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute (2U54GM104942-02) and by generous support from Dr. Kim Horn.