March 29, 2012

Recovery High

Specialized high schools are helping some on the road to recovery.

Shelby: Have you seen drugs at your school? A recent survey found that 6 in 10 students say they have seen drugs sold or kept at school. And that can be a tough environment for teens who are trying to recover from drug addiction.

Michael McGowan: It’s never enough. Never. I mean, your pocket could be full of pills but you still want more.

Shelby: At 16 years, Michael McGowan turned from a three sport athlete and solid B student to a kid with a $300 a day prescription drug habit.

Michael: All you do is want the drugs. When you’re a full blown addict you don’t care about, like, they’re not even your family because you’re using them for everything.

“No matter what we did, what we said to him, he was just kind of checked out.”

Shelby: Susan and Brian McGowan say their son Michael began stealing from them, even pawning his mother’s jewelry to support his habit. He was arrested for forging checks in 2010.

“I said, ‘Michael, how much lower can you get? You’re in jail.’ It was either a short stint of reality or he’d be dead.”

Shelby: More than a month in jail sobered him up. But the real lessons came from inside this average looking building in downtown Boston. Ostiguy High is one of four recovery schools in Massachusetts with a goal of keeping all of its students, who are recovering addicts, clean and sober and on track to graduate.

“I’m getting academics as well as recovery. That’s the best part about it. It’s like a two in one combo. You can’t beat it.”

Shelby: The 60 students ages 15 to 20 were all referred by addiction counselors and had to be drug-free for at least 30 days. Once enrolled, they attend small classes and have a curriculum designed especially for each student.

The state pays 80% of the nearly $20,000 annual tuition. Local non-profit groups make up the difference. They are tested for drugs once a week at random. And regular counciling sessions are run by recovering addicts, like John McCarthy.

John McCarthy: If a student is going to a regular school where they have their buddies running the halls with drugs A to Z, they’re not going to be focused on going to math class. They’re going to be worried about getting high in the bathrooms, cutting out. Whereas if they come to a school like this, there’s counseling services in place. So we try and offer them the complete package.

Shelby: Last year, 63% of students in regular Boston public schools graduated. But here, that number was more than 70%.

Michael: For me, sobriety is life or death.

Shelby: Michael has now been accepted to college. And he says relapse is not an option.


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