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Effort to expand substance abuse treatment in schools advances at the statehouse

A proposal for expanding student substance abuse treatment services in middle and high schools is working its way through the state legislature. Under HB23-1009, a new committee in the Department of Education would be tasked with developing a system for identifying and addressing substance misuse that could be used by schools across the state.

The bill was approved by the House Public and Behavioral Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday and is sponsored by two Democrats, Representative Mandy Lindsay and Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno. It now moves to the House Appropriations Committee for fiscal review.

“We are seeing rising levels of kids using substances for a variety of reasons,” s a id Lindsay. “We as legislators, and as parents, or anybody in our society, we need to listen and say, ‘We hear you, and let's help you get what you need. '”

According to the bill, the Secondary School Substance Use Committee would develop a system for schools to implement. The program would identify students who need substance use treatment, offer a brief intervention, and refer the student to substance use treatment services.

“I have teenagers now,” s aid Lindsay. “And quite frankly, they spend more of their waking hours at school with teachers and coaches and administrators than they do with me. So it's quite understandable that they would pick up on something happening with my students that I wouldn't see, and I welcome that.”

The bill also says creating a uniform system for schools will help make sure substance abuse treatment is equitable.

The Education Committee approved the bill along party lines, by a 7-4 vote, with Republican r epresentatives voting against it. They cited concerns about the lack of parent and law enforcement involvement and the possible limitations of a uniform system put together by the state.

“You’re still not talking about parents. You’re still not talking about law enforcement,” said Douglas County Republican Representative Anthony Hartsook at the committee hearing on Wednesday. “Why drive it from the top? Why not let the school districts decide what works best?”

Members of the Colorado Youth Advisory Council (COYAC) also helped craft the bill. COYAC advises the state legislature on issues impacting Colorado’s young people, and is composed of 40 youth members from across the state.

Sidda rth Na reddy , a CO Y AC represen tative focusing on mental health and a junio r in high s choo l , s ai d pa rents wo uld have a say . T he bill includes mandator y par ent represe ntation on t he Se condary School Substanc e U se Com mittee . The Commit tee w ould also releas e an an nual re port , which would help s chools can decid e if they w ant to change their approach .

" Something people don't realize is how much substance use plays into mental health and other issues young people face," said Nareddy. "It's abuse is o ne of the biggest , i f not the bi ggest , public health issue for yout h. "

He also says this b ill woul d help k ids su ffer ing fro m substan ce mis use wh o are n ot reached by existing efforts that f ocus on substance abuse preven tion .

Copyright 2023 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

Lucas is the News Director for KSJD Community Radio. His work focuses on serving the public of the Four Corners with responsible, factual reporting.