New program finally gives kids with addiction issues access to treatment

The last of my six children will graduate from the  Anne Arundel County Public Schools system in 2020 — the end of a  25-year-long sojourn as a parent who has watched superintendents, fads,  teachers and trends come and go. It took several years for me to  recognize that while some were simply the whims of the times, others  really had the potential for changing and saving lives. Among these, my  favorite was always the mandatory fifth-grade week of  water-safety/drown-proofing at the county pools. In a county with about  500 miles of shoreline, this has always seemed like an act of  brilliance. Another such act seems to have occurred with the launch of a  new program, Screening Teens to Access Recovery (Star), for the county’s 12 high schools.

The  idea is to give kids who have substance use issues access to treatment  programs they might not find on their own: addiction and mental health  services. The program is modeled on the county’s Safe Stations program. With Safe Stations, anyone can walk into a county firehouse or police station to ask for help with an addiction.

With  Star, students who are concerned about their own alcohol or drug use  can ask the school nurse for help. The nurse will use a telemedicine app  called to connect the student in a confidential call to a  designated therapist at the health department. The therapist, who is  part of a clinical team, screens the student before recommending the  appropriate level of care. At the student’s request, the therapist will  contact the parents. The therapist can make a “warm handoff” by calling  the treatment program to introduce the student to it. The therapist  follows up within three days with the student, if requested.

School system spokesman Bob Mosier said, “Of course,  teenagers won’t do anything you want them to do.” To counter this  well-known fact of parenting, Mosier said the program was set up so that  anyone could recommend it to a student, including classmates, coaches,  teachers, office staff or administrators. A critical point is that  students who ask for help will be supported, not penalized.

“Each  high school will present Star in a way that works for its students.  We’ll have posters from the board, but the schools can present it in  advisory lessons or however the principals feel is best.

“And  this program is not taking any additional resources. . . . If it can  help even one student, or save even one life, it will have been worth  it,” Mosier said. “We want students to know that Star is a safe,  friendly, comfortable place to get help.”

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Courtney Larson

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