School leaders discuss drug education and prevention

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — State leaders say they are on a mission to figure out just how bad opioid use is in schools.

Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, says the drugs we see in schools today aren’t what they used to be.

“The problem is experimentation with drugs in this decade means really addictive and deadly drugs,” said Bernstein.

She says as the world changes, so does the role of educators.  

“It’s a real push and pull problem for teachers because really what they want to do is teach,” said Bernstein.

But sticking to just teaching is getting harder. 

“Schools reflect what’s going on in the community. So if you’re going to see an increase of opioids and fentanyl in the community, it’s very likely you’re going to see that in the schools,” said APS Superintendent Scott Elder. 

Elder says they know there is an opioid problem in our schools. He was surprised to hear about the governor’s plans to test wastewater to find it.

“What will that drive? If it results in more support for our young people in terms of therapeutic services, counseling, medical services, great. That’s wonderful. I’m just curious what the goal is and what that would drive,” said Elder. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says it’s a way to be proactive, and it will help the state come up with a solution for illicit drug use.

“That information allows us to do a whole lot more work in the public safety and rehabilitation and prevention side of the equation,” said Lujan Grisham. 

Elder has his own ideas.

“It’s not just treatment it could be preventative. Let’s find things for kids to do, let’s get them involved in the workforce, let’s get them involved in CTE, let’s do some things for our kids that are positive,” Elders said. 

He says state funding for outside drug education programs has decreased over the last decade.

“A lot of those programs went to the wayside in the past due to funding. A lot of those state programs were cut under past administrations, so we’re not seeing what we used to have, but we try to make up for it through our content classes,” said Elder. 

Elder and Bernstein both agree it’s not so much about what the wastewater shows, but what the state does with the findings. 

“You can get a lot of data, but if all you do is admire the data and do nothing it’s not going to help,” said Bernstein. 

KOB 4 reached out to the state’s Public Education Department to see what kind of drug education programs the state offers, how much money has been invested into these programs, and how that compares to a decade ago. We did not receive a response. 

Bernstein says teachers would love to see more counselors, social workers, and nurses in schools. But that’s a matter of funding and hiring, but having that support would help teachers focus on teaching.