As the opioid crisis continues to hit homes across Maryland, new legislation going into effect this month has local schools updating their curricula.
The law requires schools to provide age-appropriate education at least once during each of three phases of a student's career: once between third and fifth grades, once between sixth and eighth grades, and once between ninth and 12th grades.
It also requires public schools to stock the overdose-reversal drug naloxone, have staff who are trained to use it and to report naloxone uses to the state.
Dana Falls, director of student services for Carroll County Public Schools, said they've already been working to tailor the curriculum for elementary schools to include this focus on opioids.
"It is going to be beefed up," Falls said.
Opioids aren't specifically addressed at the elementary school level currently, Falls said. Discussions around substance abuse do occur, although they mainly focus on tobacco and alcohol at that level, he said.
The school system is working to increase information in the curriculum about opioids and prescription pills.
"We support the law because it really ensures that everybody is actively addressing the issue," Falls said of the Maryland Start Talking Act.
At the middle school level, CCPS is already covered and compliant with the law. As a community, Falls said, they saw the need to start with opioid education earlier than high school and began partnering with local agencies.
Tom Hill, director of middle schools for CCPS, said discussions over opioids are already built into the middle school health curriculum.
"That is one place that we already have it embedded," he said. "It's hit multiple times."
Even before the recent law, Carroll schools were doing more to help educate about opioid addiction, Hill said.
This past year, the school partnered with the Carroll County State's Attorney's Office so eighth-graders could hear personal stories of those who have suffered loss because of addiction to opioids. And, Hill added, the entire eighth-grade class attended the Drug and Violence Awareness Expo in April.
"The kids were able to hear from the speakers about the impact [of opioids]," Hill said.
It's an ongoing presentation, he said, and they're hoping to continue these partnerships for as long as they can.
"The more knowledge that kids have … the better decisions they're going to make," Hill said. "They need to know what they're dealing with."
As for high school, Falls said opioid education is taught in Health I. The class is primarily made up of ninth-graders, though not everyone has Health I that year, he said. It is also addressed in other health classes, though those are extracurriculars and not required.
Falls said the community partnerships have been key in getting this type of education in the schools.
"We've been very fortunate in Carroll County to be able to partner with folks who have found ways to creatively fund those efforts," he added.