Preston Grundy of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota began drinking at the age of 14. He was self-medicating because of his depression. But in a short amount of time, Grundy moved on to marijuana, Adderall, Xanax, and cocaine. He smoked pot before school and snorted pills in his school's bathrooms between his daily classes.
According to the Associated Press, Grundy went to treatment, but when he returned to school, he relapsed because of the ever-present access to drug dealers. Grundy is now 18 and has been off drugs and alcohol for 17 months. In the fall, he will begin college and study social work and chemical dependency counseling. He credits his turnaround to a recovery school, PEASE Academy in Minneapolis.
He and approximately 60 other students, who are recovering, conquered their addiction because they were in a school where there was no way that drugs would be available.
"I needed a safer environment. I needed an environment where I could guarantee I wouldn't be offered drugs," Grundy said recently. He said without the school switch, he'd likely be "dead or in jail."
PEASE Academy is one of roughly 36 recovery high schools across the nation that join traditional classes with support groups, drug testing, and a community of classmates who are also committed to recovery.
Schools like PEASE have existed since 1979, but more are opening due to the rapid increase of opioid abuse in the US. Currently, seven new schools are scheduled to open in Washington, Florida, Minnesota, Illinois, and Colorado. Until now, however, the growth of recovery schools had been static over the last ten years, with a pattern of two schools opening each year and two closing.
The schools' enrollment fluctuation, their uncertain funding, and the fact that the quality of education in the schools varies widely keep their status unpredictable. Lawmakers, advocates, and researchers are working on finding ways to make the schools more sustainable.
Friends of Recovery-NY Chief Executive Robert Lindsey said that recovery schools are usually in urban areas where there is enough population to sustain them.
In Albany, New York, the concept of recovery schools is being discussed by the Cuomo administration and state legislators. The Denver-based Association of Recovery Schools says there is one school in New York City launched last year.
Andrew Finch of Vanderbilt University says that 85% of young people who return to their schools after treatment start using again within a year, writes Claire Hughes of the Times Union.
"Oftentimes, we'll see parents who will literally move their entire families — if they have the means — to, let's say Houston, Texas, because we have two really good schools down there," said Kristen Harper, executive director of the Association of Recovery Schools.
Some recovery schools are private, but most are public charters or alternative high schools. The average size of the schools is 35 to 40 students.
In Boston, the William J. Ostiguy High School is the only recovery school in the city and one of only a few in the state. Students stay for roughly a year or a year and a half, and then return to their communities or go on to continue their education, says the Boston Globe's Trisha Thadani.
Gov. Charlie Baker addressed the graduates of Ostiguy on Friday, saying:
"What you've done, the hill you've climbed, the battle you've fought within and around you — I wouldn't wish that on anyone. Almost everyone at some point says [overcoming addiction] is their version of hell, yet here you are. It's truly amazing."