Addiction has many casualties. Depending upon when, in one’s life, substance abuse takes hold, it can take away any sense of normalcy that so many of us take for granted, including a decent education. Many parents of young addicts are forced to choose between their children’s education and their recovery. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that nearly 32 percent of high school dropouts use illicit drugs and nearly 42 percent abuse alcohol. The agency also reports that dropouts are at increased risk of substance abuse once they leave school and move on to the next phase of their lives.
When we examine the long-term implications of this correlation, the picture gets even grimmer. Dropouts obviously face markedly increased difficulty finding quality employment that provides health insurance and a living wage. These conditions can easily put them in an economic class that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is three times as likely as higher-earning Americans to abuse dangerous drugs like heroin, which has become one of the nation’s dominant public health issues. Once this poverty-related addiction takes hold, finding a job with healthcare that can pay for treatment while your employer holds your job for you, is a virtual impossibility without the right education.
That’s the problem and more and more states are coalescing behind what they feel is the solution: recovery schools. These schools are specialized, drug-free facilities where adolescents in recovery can receive a quality education through individualized instruction; a flexible curriculum that allows for addiction and mental health treatment; participation in peer support groups; and an environment that caters to sober living. Some have been built as standalone facilities and some are programs within existing high schools. The National Association of Recovery Schools reports that there are nearly 40 recovery schools planned or currently in operation in 20 states across the country. The schools provide a targeted balance between instruction and treatment according to each student’s individual needs and are designed to ensure that even those suffering from drug or alcohol addiction can get an education.
New York is the latest state to offer recovery schools, with Governor Cuomo announcing plans for two this year. Other states that have adopted the recovery school model include Washington, Nevada, California, Colorado, Wyoming, Minnesota, Oklahoma and right here in Texas. Additional schools are planned for the aforementioned New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana Tennessee, Illinois and Wisconsin. The National Association of Recovery Schools offers a clearly outlined roadmap to accreditation. Currently only five schools are accredited; however, this process is not mandatory for operation. Accreditation merely offers an established set of standards and practices that better ensure quality control.
Perhaps one of the primary advantages of recovery schools is that they represent an additional, and potentially critical, safety net for students who go from a standard treatment program right back into their old community. Some data suggests that as much as 85 percent of adolescents who receive treatment start using again within six months to a year. Recovery schools may provide the insulation needed to give teenagers time to heal while completing the education that will be critical in overcoming the fallout of their substance abuse and furthering their lives. These schools serve as a reminder that addiction is not only a medical issue, but an economic and education issue, as well.