The Opioid Crisis: How Will Catholic Schools Respond?

Helping others dealing with addiction, overdose, pain, and sadness is a beautiful way to show them the love of Jesus.

By Mary Lou Rosien

Catholic schools will benefit from a multi-faceted approach to the opioid crisis.

The opioid crisis in our country has hit critical mass. The number of deaths due to heroin, fentanyl and other prescription opiates has skyrocketed, affecting not only those addicted to drugs, but first-time users as well. Although the country is very focused currently on school violence and safety, drug-related deaths account for more than guns, car accidents, and other acts. One report has the number nationwide at 91 drug-related deaths per day. It is a problem that the Catholic Church is now addressing.

In a recent OSV Newsweekly article, Michelle Martin stated, “Parish priests are seeing the fallout among families in their pews.” Catholic schools will benefit from a multi-faceted approach to the opioid crisis.

In response, the Diocese of Greensburg has been holding presentations about facts of the crisis, discussions and questions. The Diocese of Buffalo is training addiction advocates to help address the needs of their community. Others are finding diocesan approaches to this emergency. Catholic schools need tools to work on this problem as well.


Learning what the problem is and who it affects is the first step in understanding how to combat the effects of this issue in our schools. While addicts are at risk for overdose, many other factors can lead to others, who have not had issues with drugs in the past, overdosing.

Risk Factors for Overdose:

  • Mixing substances (street drugs can be laced with substances, have higher potency than expected)
  • Using drugs alone (no one around to recognize or prevent accidental overdose)
  • Loss of tolerance after a period of abstinence
  • Switching from one opioid to another or getting opioids from a new source
  • Co-existing drug use and mental health issues

A scenario repeated by Scott Gibbs, the father of an overdose victim: a sports injury leads to a prescription for an opiate. When the prescription runs out, the patient has become physically and/or psychologically addicted and seeks a new way to get medication. They will sometimes seek prescriptions obtained from friends, or their parent’s medicine cabinet. When they have exhausted those options, they turn to a street drug. The results can be deadly.

Dr. Michael Mendoza, Monroe County (New York) Commissioner of Public Health, reminds us that addiction is a disease. No one hopes to be an addict when they grow up. We must view those with addictions with love and compassion, through the lens of seeing them as a person with an illness.

Raising awareness

Catholic schools can be effective in bringing in police officers, physicians and other professionals to educate students about the risks that leave them, their friends, and family members open to the possibility of overdose. Experts remind us that, “See something, say something,” applies not only to threats of violence and terrorism, but drug issues as well.


Many communities are now pursuing legislative action to help fight this epidemic. These efforts include: harsher charges and sentences for drug dealers (including manslaughter charges for overdoses), lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for flooding markets with prescription pain-killers, and addressing new restrictions (education, penalties) for physicians who are over-prescribing narcotics. As a Catholic community, we have an obligation to inform ourselves about appropriate legislation and support it.

Task forces and command centers are working with local police departments to investigate crimes and deaths and propose legislative avenues to fight the current drug crisis. Catholic-school districts can contact these task forces to have in-service programs at the schools. Students can pray for the success and safety of those involved with these efforts.

Treatment Options

Most communities have drug rehabilitation facilities which maintain both in-patient and out-patient treatment. Traditionally, the problem has been too few beds for too many patients. Communities are trying to get creative about changing this scenario. One community in Rochester, NY has opened a gym, ROCovery, that offers a rehab program and support, with a focus on fitness programs in the place of drug use.

Communities are also changing the ways they reach at-risk individuals. Some offer “safe spaces” for users. Others host day-long events that provide counselors, medication drop-off points, and transportation to inpatient rehab facilities. Catholic-school counselors can post information on these events on the school’s website.


When faced with a problem as big as this one, it is easy to get discouraged. However, there is a lot we can do to fight this threat.

Pray. St. Paul reminds us in Sacred Scripture to pray unceasingly about all things.

Get informed and trained. Know what an overdose looks like and how to help reverse it. Many public health officials are offering training in administering Narcan (nasal spray that will reverse an opioid overdose) to schools, churches, and lay people.

Dispose of medications. Since many young people are introduced to drugs through medications found at home, getting rid of old or unused prescriptions is a good first step in preventing the problem. Call your local police station or pharmacy to find out where to drop off these medications. DO NOT FLUSH THEM.

Pass along this information. Once informed, we have an obligation to inform others. Be proactive and educate others on the issues and solutions. Continue the conversation in your homes, schools, and communities.

Advocate for ourselves, students, and children. When a child is injured or sick, do not just accept a pain-killer prescription without question. Ask if it is truly necessary. Is the prescription for more than a few days, and if so, why? Remember that prescribed pain medications are often the gateway to addiction.


Pope Francis calls addiction “the new slavery,” He has been clear on how we must treat the addicted or at-risk person.

[E]very addicted person brings with them a distinct personal history, which should be listened to, understood, loved, and, where possible, cured and purified. We cannot fall into the injustice of classifying them as if they were objects or broken junk; rather, every person should be valued and appreciated in their dignity in order to be cured. They continue to have, more than ever, dignity as persons and children of God. — Pope Francis, Workshop on Narcotics: Problems and Solutions of this Global Issue, 2016.

At the root of many of today’s problems is the idea that pain is not to be tolerated, but eliminated. We see this in the overdose crisis, the teen suicide rate, in all forms of emotional and physical distress. When we study Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross we know, as Catholic Christians, that pain can have value. It helps us discover who we are. It helps us to fall on our knees and reach to our Savior for help. It connects us to the suffering of others in the world. If we help our students to understand and accept some of the difficulties in the world, we can help them to face life without artificial relief from those struggles.

Helping others dealing with addiction, overdose, pain and sadness is a beautiful way to show them the love of Jesus. We can go out and spread the Good News that Christ is risen because he loves us and found us worthy of redemption.

Mary Lou Rosien is a former English teacher and current substitute teacher, Confirmation teacher, Pre-Cana instructor, and RCIA coordinator/teacher.