The Sunnyside School District is leading the way in the state of Washington-the entity is the first to become certified to provide drug and alcohol screenings and interventions in schools.
The state's Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse created a new license that allows entities like the school district to provide the service. Sunnyside is the first to sign up.
"We applied for it very early on," said John Hughes, Sunnyside School District's Drug and Alcohol Coordinator.
What it does is provide a service to students before they reach the point of needing outpatient or intensive outpatient treatment, he said.
The school district will use a program called "Brief Intervention."
"The state has recognized this is something a little more than just early stage intervention and a little less than an outpatient program," Hughes said.
Hughes explained that the program includes motivational enhancement, client engagement, communication skills in refusing drugs, healthy social networking and identifying support resources and the identification of triggers.
He said Brief Intervention is research based and he feels very strongly that it will work in Sunnyside schools.
"Research has shown this is particularly effective with kids," Hughes said.
One goal of the intervention program is to help students come to realize they need help.
In terms of social networking, Hughes said, "How do you find supportive friends, support resources to make these changes?"
Students also need to be able to identify their triggers as to what makes them use substances. Once the triggers are identified, a crisis plan is created as to how to handle it, said Hughes.
When asked if the program meant that students would have to automatically seek further treatment, Hughes said it depends on the level of severity of the case.
"A lot of students have gotten themselves into drugs but they're not necessarily going to follow through with an outpatient therapy program just yet," he said.
Hughes also said the school district is not competing with existing drug treatment organizations in the community.
"This is all motivation, early intervention stuff."
Hughes is the only licensed drug and alcohol counselor in the school district.
The funding for this comes from two sources, Hughes said. There is state funding and also safety funds appropriated to his position from a school levy.
The timing for the school district's ability to intervene couldn't be better.
According to surveys, Hughes said, "There's been an increase in referrals of drug problems in the high school and middle school this year."
Hughes added, "It's quite evident to me that kids that use drugs are much more likely to drop out of school early and just disappear."
He's hoping Brief Intervention will decrease the numbers of students who experience that.