There are an estimated 1.3 million young people between the ages of 12-17 who are addicted to alcohol and other drugs. Of that number, nearly 12 percent are admitted to rehabilitation facilities, and of those, about half return to active substance use within a year.

But,  what if there was a place where young people could go that would greatly reduce their chances of relapse and possible death; and at the same time, save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, by averting teens from the criminal justice system and keeping them in the educational system?

Recovery high schools provide high school diploma programs and are specifically designed for young people living in recovery from a substance abuse disorder. They help students focus on academic learning while simultaneously receiving recovery supports and services. According to the Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health, “existing recovery high schools have accredited programs and have reported success.” A 2008 study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that students in various recovery high schools reported a significant reduction in substance abuse, and assessed the schools’ therapeutic value positively.

Last year, Generation Found, the powerful film by Greg Williams, was featured at the FOR-NY / ASAP Recovery Conference. The film examines how a community ravaged by addiction, came together to build a recovery high school – a peer-driven youth and family recovery community in Houston, Texas – and   has inspired members of the recovery community in New York to meet with educators, lawmakers, treatment providers, and addiction specialists to begin exploring how they might bring a recovery high school into their (which?) community.

In his 2017 State of the State, Governor Cuomo outlined a proposal to create New York’s first recovery high schools in areas around the state that have been hit hardest by alcohol and drug addiction. According to the Governor’s 26th Proposal, “boards of Cooperative Educational Services will submit proposals to the Office for Alcoholism and Substance Abuse to establish the first schools, one upstate and one downstate, in partnership with local social service agencies. The new schools will be operated by the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which are funded by sponsoring school districts. Enrollment will be open to all high school students with a diagnosis of a substance abuse disorder and a commitment to recovery.”

There are many options for how Recovery High Schools might be funded and operated. In New York’s neighboring state of Massachusetts, five operating schools are currently funded through a combination of Department of Health grants. Other schools allow an existing nonprofit or other private provider to run the program, while other schools exist in affiliation with existing public schools.

While there is some debate on how New York would make recovery high schools operational in New York State, most decision makers agree that the concept of having them are good. FOR-NY put the creation of recovery high schools high on our list of priorities this year, and with your help, will continue our efforts at educating lawmakers and other decision makers about the value of having recovery high schools made a reality in the Empire State.