VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - It's an epidemic plaguing our state as too many people are dying from drug overdoses.
Experts say some teens start to experiment with deadly drugs in high school, which can lead to substance abuse problems.
Virginia Beach School Board member Carolyn Weems would like to create a Recovery High School in the city, designed to treat students who are addicted to drugs and alcohol.
She lost her 21-year-old daughter, Caitlyn, to a drug overdose in 2013.
Weems said her daughter suffered from a back problem and then had a soccer injury.
Weems said three of Caitlyn's teeth were knocked out, and she was forced to have nine root canals. Caitlyn's doctor wrote her a prescription for painkillers.
But, like many people, prescription drug abuse took the young woman down a dark road.
“You live with the fact that your daughter is no longer here on Earth, and that’s something I have had to deal with and navigate every single day,” said Weems.
Weems is involved in several efforts to bring awareness to the drug epidemic.
“Sadly, we’ve seen a lot of activities in our schools,” said Weems.
Now, she hopes to bring a recovery program to the Virginia Beach City Public Schools district.
She said the idea is to create a school designed to help treat kids with substance abuse issues.
There are dozens of them across the country, including Northshore Recovery High School outside of Boston.
Michelle Muffett-Lipinski is the principal and started the school 16 years ago after she noticed a lot of students getting into heroin.
Muffett-Lipinski said there’s a lot of positive motivation in every classroom. Their staff have extensive training in trauma, and many have personal addiction experience.
Former student and now-staff member Rebecca Murray graduated from the school in 2009 after struggling with a substance abuse problem.
She said the school provided her with support, and now she does the same to help kids.
“I was never thrown out or made to feel uncomfortable here, and for that reason, I graduated. I think I did pretty well,” said Murray.
Muffett-Lipinski said she believes schools need to change the language they use when dealing with youth and addiction. She said so many kids are afraid of getting into trouble. She said figuring out why a student is showing up high to school or what they are struggling with is very important.
She warns that she has seen programs start in other districts but not finish due to lack of funding. She said the programs need to be able to be sustained.
Weems said if this program was created in Virginia Beach, it would likely be housed in an existing high school. Students would take regular classes but also get extra help and counseling to deal with their addiction and information for parents.
“There would be a lot of education for the parent because we know that addiction is a family disease,” said Weems. “I know for us, when our daughter was struggling with it, it affected the whole family.”
She says the hope would be to create a program in the city that could then help kids into college that has sober living communities, such as Longwood University and others around the state.
“There would be eight years of total support for these kids, and that’s just going to be a phenomenal thing for these students to be able to live successful and addiction-free lives,” said Weems.
We reached out to VBCPS about the idea. They said VBCPS Chief of Staff Dr. Don Robertson confirms that there will be a discussion during the school board’s summer retreat about developing a recovery program within one of the district's high schools as part of the work of the division’s Mental Health Task Force.