- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2017


Recovery schools. Heard of them?

Recovery schools are private, public, alternative and other specialty schools where students are in the throes of recovering from substance abuse.

Generally speaking, in a schoolhouse setting, the soon-to-be-adults are subjected to therapy, counseling, drug testing and other clean-and-sober machinations, including 12-step programs.

According to the nonprofit Association of Recovery Schools, there are 40 such high schools in the United States, and advocates are hoping to open one in the nation’s capital.

Now, here’s the thing: You already know that one-size-fits-all public schooling doesn’t fit all children.

So here’s the question: Is substance abuse an education problem or a health problem?

You’ve seen or heard tell of the opioid public health crisis.

The teen drinking problem.

The youth tobacco and smoking problem.

And you know how the generational ravages of methamphetamines, PCP, cocaine and crack ripped apart families, communities and human bodies — high prices whose tolls remain unpaid.

You might even be aware of Bo, Sizzurp, Purple Stripe and lean, cough syrup-sipping concoctions that teens have been drinking for years to get a codeine-like buzz from legal and over-the-counter medicines. (Beware if your cold medications, NyQuil and ZzzQuil begin to disappear from your medicine cabinet this flu season.)

Sure, opioids remain the health crisis of the decade, and frightening statistics have led governors and mayors to declare public health crises and prompted state legislatures, Congress and the White House to open government spigots.

Interestingly, one of the most-sought-after opioid tools is naloxone, which is being used by first responders and inside schools to reverse opioid overdoses. Blessedly, they momentarily keep the grim reaper at bay.

Recovery schools want to be armed with such lifesavers too, and that’s probably a smart idea. You never know when a student, teacher or parent buzzing off an opioid is in the schoolhouse. Being prepared is a good rule of thumb.

Yet if the health crisis is good enough to describe the substance abuse problem in our midst, why such a push to assign substance-abusing teens to a traditional school environment?

Such teens need and deserve more than an environment driven by academics.

They deserve and need a health-based environment whose goals are to get them clean and sober, and help them sustain it.

Kudos and prayers to all the teens who already have made it up the ladder. Addiction is a terrific force, and the battles against it must be fought on multiple fronts day in and day out.

While I am not going to knock the potential of recovery schools, it certainly seems obvious there should be longitudinal empirical research and data that proves the teens who attended recovery schools have stayed on the straight and narrow for five, 10, 20 years.

There’s much anecdotal evidence available. However, our substance-abusing teens deserve so much more.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]

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