After overdose deaths, Bucks district approves plan to offer drug counseling in schools

Joshua Redner, a Pennsbury High School graduate, died of a heroin overdose last week. His mother. Jacqueline Redner, is president of the Pennsbury school board. (Provided)

Joshua Redner, a Pennsbury High School graduate, died of a heroin overdose last week. His mother. Jacqueline Redner, is president of the Pennsbury school board. (Provided)

A Bucks County school district is launching an effort to combat the opioid epidemic by putting drug counselors in schools.

The Pennsbury school board voted in favor of the plan Tuesday night after a string of recent overdose deaths among young graduates.

The latest Pennsbury victim was the son of the school board president, Jacqueline Redner. Her 28-year-old son, Joshua Redner, died of a heroin overdose less than a week before the board’s vote Tuesday night to approve the district’s new drug intervention plan.

Redner said the local effects of the opioid epidemic have taken a massive toll on her son’s classmates, too.

“His graduating class of 2007 … it’s pretty much decimated from heroin,” said Jacqueline Redner.

Bucks County saw 185 overdose deaths last year — an increase of more than 40 percent from the year before.

Redner said her son became hooked on painkillers while he was still in high school.

Another Pennsbury graduate, Luke Johnson, died of an overdose in May. Johnson’s family attended a June school board meeting to plead for an intervention program.

The district will contract with the Richard J. Caron Foundation to keep Pennsbury High School staffed with drug counselors five days a week, train school counselors in addiction and mental health awareness, and establish support groups, at a cost of $149,000 per year.

The Pennsbury school board approved a separate measure Tuesday night expanding a mental health education program to middle schools.

Redner said addressing overall mental health is key to preventing addiction.

“A kid doesn’t just wake up one day and say, ‘You know what, I want to become a heroin addict,'” she said. “Something leads them down that path.”

Redner cited academic pressures faced by kids today as a source of anxiety that can lead to drug use.

The Pennsbury school board president began advocating more attention to mental health and drug issues in schools after she lost another son to suicide in 2015. She hopes other school districts across the state will follow Pennsbury’s example.

“Everybody says it takes a village to raise a child,” Redner said. “Nowadays, it’s going to take a village to keep a child alive, and off of drugs.”

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