School bus drivers learning to identify kids abusing opioids

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MONROE, Wash. – School bus drivers are now learning how to spot if your child, or the kid sitting next to them, might be abusing opioids.

Dozens of school bus drivers from across the North Sound met at a weekend workshop to talk in part about how they could help spot kids who might be in trouble with drugs.

Student transportation professionals from the Monroe School District were at the workshop, as were drivers from across Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom and San Juan counties.

One bus driver said it’s heartbreaking the opioid epidemic has gotten to this point. She added it makes perfect sense for bus drivers to be part of the first line of defense.

“We care so deeply about these kids. How can we help? How can we be aware?”

Those were the questions Monroe School District’s lead driver trainer Jonna Critchett wanted answered during the workshop.

“We care about every child that comes onto the bus, just like they’re our own child because when they come on the bus they are our children,” she said.

The workshop focused on how bus drivers could spot the signs of drug abuse for kids who aren’t old enough to drive, but might know where to get powerful prescription drugs.

“Fifty-six percent of kids believe they could have access to their parent’s medicine cabinets,” said Amy Austin, an outreach specialist with Snohomish County’s Opioid Project. “Ninety-five percent of parents believed their child would never get into their medicine cabinet.”

Austin was also part of this weekend’s bus driver workshop and insists getting as many people on board to help keep kids off drugs is bound to make an impact.

“Working with the public and educating people wanting to learn and know how they can be aware of this is what’s going to help us,” she said.

The statistics are striking: during the first eight months of 2017, more than 650 patients were seen at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett for symptoms of opioid overdose.

And while the majority of those patients were between 20 and 40 years old, there were more than double the number of patients above the age of 40.

There were also nearly 30 patients who were younger than 20 – and strikingly some of them weren’t even teenagers yet.

“It’s a little upsetting,” said Lake Stevens mother Heather Moore. “It’s sad that it’s come to this.”

Moore says her kids ride school buses every day but she worries if bus drivers will know which signs could point to children abusing opioids.

“I’m a little uncertain about it. I don’t know if they’re going to have the proper training,” she said.

But Critchett says it’s about building relationships with kids and says sometimes drivers spend more time with kids than their teachers do.

“If they’re happy and go lucky and usually that’s their behavior, and now they wear a hoodie and they’re withdrawn. They used to sit in the back and now they’re in the front, something’s up. And we need to ask what’s up,” said Critchett.

During the workshop, the bus drivers were taught to look for signs of intoxication – and short of a medical emergency will share their concerns with supervisors if they believe a child is having trouble with addiction.

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