Md. school program aims to help students with substance abuse

There’s a new program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, aimed at combating substance abuse among students.

The STAR Program, or Screening Teens to Access Recovery, is a collaboration between the county school district and health officials that will create a safe space for students in need of help.

The program was created after school nurses expressed a need for more resources. It will now enable school health officials to connect students with licensed therapists at the Anne Arundel County Health Department through a “tele-session.” Depending on the results, students will then explore treatment options and possible next steps.

STAR is modeled after the county’s Safe Stations Program. In the same way, residents are able to get access to substance treatment by walking into a fire station or police station. With this new program, school students will have the same kind of access at school.

Sandy O’Neill, director of behavioral health services with the health department, said, “Creating this space was a way to reduce that barrier and reduce that stigma for the youth that may be coming in, needing some help and not knowing where to go.”

According to the school district, 327 students suspected of being under the influence were seen by health professionals on school campuses across the county last year. Nationally, 1 in 10 adolescents with a substance use disorder never receives treatment.

Superintendent George Arlotto said in a statement, “I believe the ability of students to access assistance from a friendly face in the school health room will encourage more students to seek help when they need it.”

It’s a decision O’Neill is confident will play a positive role in schools.

“We are trying to be available to students in a place where they feel comfortable; we will really work to get their families engaged with them in this process. It’s absolutely critical,” O’Neill said.

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