A new report and paper through the Bookings Institute, The opioid crisis and community-level spillovers onto children’s education, outlines how the impact of opioids has altered education outcomes for children in communities hit by the drug crisis. The authors set out to determine, “What is the effect on children’s learning while being embedded in a community where the opioid epidemic has taken hold?”

After a lengthy discussion, they say, “Our evidence, while only correlational in this report, suggests a need to be aware of the potentially negative effects of the opioid epidemic on the education outcomes of children.” While they limit the focus of this research on third-grade test-scores, they point out that the opioid epidemic is likely to impact other areas, including outcomes such as attendance, probability of school disciplinary action, graduation, or college enrollment.

Of course, the research was conducted previous to the current pandemic, and you can only speculate how this COVID-19 crisis, which is now limiting education to at-home lessons and classes based in part on access to technology, will have an even greater impact on the children of the opioid epidemic. As they point out in their paper, “Education can be a pathway to economic and social mobility, especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The collateral consequences associated with the opioid epidemic—family members who suffer from substance-use disorder, parents lost to opioid overdose, diverted community resources, and the fraying of neighborhood social connections—have the potential to negatively impact the educational outcomes of children. This may especially be the case for children who grow up in communities hardest hit by the [opioid] epidemic, such as the Appalachian belt, impoverished rural communities, and the industrial Midwest, potentially exacerbating already existing educational achievement gaps and thus future economic opportunity.”

The question is what becomes of these communities if they lose even more economic opportunity, fall further behind in education and lose some of the social supports and instead experience social isolation. Furthermore, these families could lose access to other critical services, including health care as the Medicaid budgets constrict and agencies go out of existence. A recent article in the New York Times, The Coronavirus Class Divide: Space and Privacy, referenced the plight of an Oklahoma City woman, “Cathy Conner, 58, shares a one-room trailer that lacks running water with her boyfriend and two relatives and showers in the bathroom of the R.V. park, after spraying it with bleach. Even the need for social distancing cannot keep her from the busy methadone clinic on which her abstention from heroin rests. “That’s more important than food,” States are facing a big challenge with their Medicaid budgets and, in turn, the survival of many critical providers in these communities.

The authors conclude, “This report presents a new and potentially troubling side of the nation’s opioid epidemic, namely, the adverse effects this scourge may be having on learning potential of our children. This report is a first step in examining the connections between the opioid epidemic and education outcomes, and these findings demonstrate the need for both further research that interrogates how this relationship works and the role resources may play in mitigating the negative impact of the epidemic on the education of the nation’s children.”

Now they can add another element to their research.