At Northshore Recovery High School in Beverly, Massachusetts, teachers are not only focused on helping their students pass their classes and graduate -- faculty members also play an active role in helping the student body overcome addiction. There are an increasing number of "recovery high schools" like this one opening across the country, where students are finding a safe haven with peers who are similarly committed to recovery from drug and alcohol addictions.
“There was a 50/50 chance of me either dying or getting better,” former Northshore student Alyssa Dedrick told NBC. “I think going to a recovery school really increased my odds, not only of recovery, but of survival in general.”
NBC News reports that there are now at least 35 recovery high schools across the country, with five more currently in development.
Dedrick began experimenting with drugs and alcohol at age 15, and was put in a treatment center one year later. But her friends from school were still using drugs like Oxycotin and heroin, and once she left treatment, she found herself quickly slipping back into old habits with her old crew. She went into treatment and relapsed four more times before seeking out Northshore Recovery High School.
Dedrick's story is, unfortunately, a relatively common one. According to NBC, 75 percent of teens relapse in the first year after treatment, when they are typically returning to the schools they attended before treatment. But in an environment where the other students were, like her, committed to recovery, Dedrick was able break free from the cycle of addiction. Now 24, Dedrick has been sober for five years.
In Canada, Edmonton mother Carla Fenton-Katchmar had a similar experience with her daughter, who went back to her old friends after she left treatment. She is now calling for major change to rehabilitation centers for young people after her daughter recently overdosed on drugs.
"When you are surrounded by people who do nothing but drugs and drinking and pills, that's what you see and what you believe," Fenton-Katchmar told CBC. "She just got in that rut and she got deeper and deeper and I tried to pull her out."
According to Fenton-Katchmar, the problem is that the four-week programs -- like the ones Dedrick went to before she moved over to Northshore Recovery -- are too short to be effective.
"It certainly isn't uncommon for people to go to the 28 day programs a number of times," mental health and addiction professional Kathy Willerth told CBC. "They would have a relapse and have them go back."
Although early research finds that students are less likely to relapse if they attend recovery high schools rather than returning to their old schools after shorter treatment programs, some critics are saying that more evaluation is needed to assess the long-term effectiveness of these schools.
Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe and Drug-Free Schools at the U.S. Department of Education, told The Partnership at drugfree.org: “We are funding a study with the National Institute on Drug Abuse that will evaluate recovery schools to see if they are effective in terms of sobriety and helping students complete their education."
With the recent passing of the Affordable Care Act, the options for recovery will be changing for those struggling with addictions and their families, as thousands more Americans will have access to substance abuse treatment programs.