A new tool is helping teachers and school counselors within the Ashland Middle and High Schools address alcohol and other drug use. Teen Intervene, which was developed by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, uses a suite of screening, intervention and treatment tools to help teenagers who have experienced mild to moderate problems with alcohol or other drug use work on making better choices and modifying their behavior.
Several school based staff members with the School District of Ashland were trained on the research-based model, thanks to a grant written by and awarded to NorthLakes Community Clinic. This past summer, these staff members began using the tool for students who were caught with tobacco, alcohol, or illegal drugs at school. In addition, the program is now being offered as an option for students caught vaping or with vaping paraphernalia on school grounds. Students and parents may complete the course with a trained school staff person in lieu of a city fine for tobacco products on school grounds through a partnership with the Ashland Police Department and the City of Ashland.
“Teen Intervene provides us the tools we need to work with students and their families on how to make healthier choices,” says Ashland School District Wellness Coordinator Greta Blancarte. “To do this, the program helps identify the reason a student chose to use alcohol or other drugs, examines the effects of this substance use in their life, and then provides some education around how to make healthier choices moving forward. The program also includes an assessment to understand the severity of the use and rules out substance use disorders.”
Similar to other areas in the country, vaping is on the rise. One reason for this is the surge of candy and fruit flavors available for students to try. In Wisconsin, 88% of high school students say they wouldn’t try e-cigarettes if they didn’t come in flavors like mint, mango, chocolate or cotton candy. But, a recent study found that there are more than 15,500 unique e-cigarette flavors available online. And, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that e-cigarette use by high school students increased 78 percent from 2017-2018, bringing the total to 21% of all high school students or 3.05 million.
“One of the reasons we’re concerned about teens using e-cigarettes is that nicotine is especially harmful to young, developing brains,” says Charmaine Swan of the Northwest Wisconsin Tobacco-Free Coalition. “We’ve made so much progress in reducing tobacco use – the last thing we want to see is that undone by this new generation of tobacco products.”
The school district, along with NorthLakes Community Clinic, hopes that by understanding why students are making these choices, they can help them make better choices in the future. “We believe that the Teen Intervene tool is an effective, evidence based approach that is uniquely comprehensive,” says NorthLakes CEO Reba Rice. “It was created specifically to drive adolescent engagement and produce positive outcomes.”
As part of the grant, NorthLakes Community Clinic has also adapted the Teen Intervene program to assist adolescent girls with adverse childhood experiences, as studies show that women who have experienced trauma are much more likely to use. This will be interwoven into new and existing school-based services within the School District of Ashland that are provided by the district’s community partners: NorthLakes Clinic, Ashland MMC, SOAR Services, and Bad River Wellness Clinic. To date, the Ashland School District has seen over 400 students as part of the district’s mental health referral pathway. This pathway provides an online form for staff, family and students to refer students who may need mental health services. Of those, over 70% have been connected to services within the school and community.