New York considers recovery schools

Published Mar 18, 2017 at 4:00pm

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed legislation that would establish recovery schools, places where high school students struggling with heroin and opioid addiction could complete their high school degrees while remaining in a supportive, temptation-free environment.

The Board of Cooperative Educational Services is in the process of submitting proposals for such schools to the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. The new schools will be operated by BOCES and funded through local school districts that support the program.

Enrollment will be open to all high school students with a diagnosis of a substance abuse disorder and a commitment to recovery. The locations of the two schools are still being considered, and they are expected to open within two years.

“Governor Cuomo’s Fiscal year 2017-2018 Executive Budget includes a proposal to establish up to two pilot recovery high schools. These schools are expected to be operational in Fiscal Year 2019 in hard-hit regions of the state, and they will allow students in recovery to learn in a substance-free and supportive environment,” OASAS Public Information and Communications Director Jonah Bruno said.

Alarming trend

Since 2012 heroin use has increased 75 percent. The City of Chicago has the highest prevalence of heroin use in the country. The fastest growing age group of heroin users is white, middle-to-upper class adults aged 18-22. Experts say users of heroin and other opioids are introduced through gateway drugs. These include prescription pills like Vicodin and Oxycontin, along with alcohol and marijuana.

Experts say heroin is cheaper and provides a better high compared to other drugs. The Gateway Alcohol and Drug Treatment Center says that 24 percent of high school students have abused addictive prescription drugs. This is an increase of 33 percent since 2012. Heroin use has increased as pain pills have become harder to obtain.

The state Department of Health states that in 2014 2,028 New York residents died of a drug overdose, with 30 percent happening in New York City and nearly 20 percent on Long Island.

These numbers continue to trend upward, and are likely under-reported because medical examiner and police reports are not usually added to vital statistics records.

Hope on the way

One selling point of recovery schools is cost. The Houston-based Association of Recovery Schools estimates the average cost of incarcerating a juvenile heroin offender at $88,000. The enrollment cost in a recovery school averages $20,000.

A student re-enrolling in a traditional high school costs a local school district approximately $10,700. But relapse rates for adolescent drug offenders ranges between 60 and 70 percent in public schools, and virtually all youth in recovery reported being offered drugs their first day back at school.

According to ARS, there were 39 recovery schools operating nationwide in 2016. Cuomo announced six different means of combatting the heroin and opioid epidemic during his state of the state address in January, including the recovery school program.

They also include eliminating prior authorization by insurance companies to expand treatment, naming fentanyl — a dangerous drug mixed in with opioid to increase its effect — as a controlled substance, and increasing access to buprenorphine, a drug used in heroin recovery programs.

“New York has made great strides in combatting the devastating epidemic of heroin and opioid addiction, but this crisis continues and we must continue to do everything in our power to combat each facet of this complex health emergency,” Cuomo said.