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Adolescents – Resources for Teachers and Coaches

Resources to help teachers and coaches learn about drugs of abuse and how to recognize the signs of opioid use in their students and athletes.

Please note: The first step in talking to adolescents and teens about their opioid use or abuse/misuse is to speak in a non-judgmental way. Conversations with children/teens flow best when it naturally occurs. Listen if a child/teen talks to you, ask if they’ve thought about what they might need to get better, make sure to keep things confidential, unless it is life threatening, and do not minimize how they are feeling.

For 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or for the Crisis Text Line, text HOME to 741741.

What Teachers and Coaches Need to Know

Teachers and Coaches need to know about drugs of abuse and need to be able to recognized the signs of opioid use in their students.

According to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health: 2019


  • 20.8% of Americans, aged 12 and older, have used illicit drugs in the past year
  • 20.5 million Americans, age 12 and older, have misused a prescription painkiller, (e.g., OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin), sedative (e.g., Valium, Xanax) or stimulant (e.g., Ritalin, Adderall) in the past year (compared to less than a million people using heroin)
  • Approximately 2% of youth age 12-17 report misusing a prescription painkiller and 66% report the reason was physical pain; the most common source for the pain reliever they misused was from a friend or relative

What To Look For

Behaviors that should raise a concern that a student is using opioids include:


  • frequent absences
  • unusual drowsiness
  • shallow breathing
  • mood swings
  • slurred speech
  • euphoria (feeling high)
  • irritability
  • lowered motivation

What Teachers and Coaches Should Do

Teachers and Coaches should:


  1. Look for signs and symptoms of drug use in their students
      • Refer to the list of possibly signs and symptoms in the previous section
  2. Communicate concerns about students with appropriate colleagues, parents and/or caregivers
      • Appropriate colleagues may include counselors, assistant principals, and nurses
  3. Understand school referral process and policies
      • Refer to your school’s handbook and talk to other school personnel (counselors, assistant principals, nurses)
      • Your school should have a referral process with identified community resources to assist with drug rehabilitation
  4. Determine if Naloxone, a drug used to treat an overdose, is available in your school district
  5. Keep the lines of communication open with students
      • Ask students about their lives, learn the current language students are using to talk about drugs and addiction
      • Teachers need to remember that students might be living in households where drugs are present and/or living with adults who are using drugs


NIH: Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction – Drug Misuse and Addiction

  • An NIH resource on understanding the effect of drugs on the brain and risk factors for addiction.

NIH: Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction – Preventing Drug Misuse and Addiction: The Best Strategy

  • Information on why adolescence is a critical time for preventing drug misuse and abuse, and information on prevention.

Operation Prevention

  • This DEA resource English and Spanish-language resources on drug misuse designed for students in grades 3-12, plus additional resources designed for educators, families, and professionals.

NIDA: Parents and Educators

  • Find the latest information about the effects and consequences of drug use and abuse, including resources on talking with adolescents about the effects of drug use and abuse.

NIDA: Teachers: Classroom Resources on Drug Effects

  • Lessons and activities for teachers to use in the classroom to educate students about drug use.

SAMHSA: Rise in Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse Impacting Teens

  • Facts from SAMHSA on the rise in prescription drug misuse in adolescents.

A Coach’s Guide to Recognizing Alcohol/Drug Problems Among Athletes

  • A guide for coaches with information on specific behaviors to look for that may be signs of drug misuse or abuse, and steps to take if a student athlete come to you for help.

Heroin and Opioid Awareness & Prevention Toolkit

  • Navigate to page 11 of this toolkit on heroin and opioid prevention and awareness for educator resources.

For more information on adolescents with pain, tailored toward providers or patients and families: