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Will School For Addicted Students Work In CCSD?

It’s no surprise to Nevada residents, that drug addiction is a big problem in this state.

Nevada ranks second nationally in prescriptions for hydrocodone and oxycodone; fourth for methadone; and seventh for codeine. Those numbers, of course, don't reflect the problem of street drugs like heroin and methamphetamine, or the problem of addiction to alcohol. 

Addiction doesn’t just afflict adults of course. Many students in the Clark County School District deal daily with drug and alcohol problems. The estimate is that 9 percent of the student body, or about 19,000 kids, are dealing with addiction issues.

The problem for many of the kids who do get treatment for addiction is how do they continue their recovery at the same school that their old friends, who might be still using, are going? It is a problem that is solved by recovery schools.

Recovery schools have been around since the late 70s in the United States, but their numbers are still relatively low with only about three dozen spread around the country. They work to help students in their recovery from addiction by providing a supportive environment to learn and most likely catch up on their academic lives.

This fall, the school district is dedicating about $840,000 to fund a recovery school for some 100 students. Clark County School District associate superintendent Jeff Horn said currently kids who have finished treatment often go back to their old schools.

"This gives an alternative for students to have a safe, supportive atmosphere where they can get some help, drug and alcohol counseling and also finish their education along that way," he said. 

Horn said treatment centers, principals and counselors and families will be able to refer students in ninth through 12th grade to the school. He said students who are with people battling some of the same issues feel supported by going to a recovery school instead of drawing away and feeling isolated in a regular school. 

Vanderbilt University professor Andrew Finch has studied recovery schools. He agreed that teenagers are likely to relapse after treatment for addiction but being at school with kids in the same situation helps.

"When they come out of treatment and the likelihood is strong that they will use substances again, you have to ask yourself: who do you want surrounding them when that happens? Do you want them to be surrounded by like-minded peer groups, people who are struggling with the same thing, who will hold them accountable and keep them back on track," he said. 

Finch said providing funding through the public school system is a good idea because it establishes a cost certainty and allows support for parents who may not be able to pay for private treatment and recovery services.

Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Ross understands the problem of addiction personally. His son was addicted to pain medication.

"Addiction does not effect just the addict it affects the entire family," he said. He also said the opioid epidemic is real and the community cannot bury its head in the sand about it. 

Horn said the new school will have counselors, social workers, staff and a principal dedicated to helping students with their recovery. Finch said that is exactly what is needed to create a "culture of recovery" where students are supported in getting their academics and their lives back on track. 

Jeff Horn, associate superintendent, CCSD, Andrew Finch, professor in the College of Education and Human Development, Vanderbilt University; Steve Ross, Las Vegas City Councilman

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.