MAHOPAC, N.Y. - When students learn the facts about what’s happening with substance abuse, addiction, and recovery in their local environment, they have a stake in the vitality of it.  This is what two Mahopac High School educators are determined to prove next semester.

In an unprecedented feat, Davia Bugge, Mahopac High School student assistance counselor, and Valarie Nierman, Mahopac School District health coordinator, and high school health teacher, have designed a half-credit class, “Substance Abuse, Addiction, and Recovery,” for junior and senior students that not only provides an instructive immersion in substance abuse awareness, prevention and treatment but also enables a viable career path opportunity.

“Our goal is to help students better understand the plight of those who have seen their lives thrown into chaos as a result of drugs and alcohol abuse and then offer a practical way for making a possible profession in helping with recovery,” said Anthony DiCarlo, superintendent of schools.

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Holding true to the district’s strategic plan for supporting students in becoming caring, collaborative and compassionate lifelong learners, this elective debuts in the new year offering rigorous coursework focused around three core modules:

• Basic knowledge of substance abuse disorders

• Overview of the addictions field

• Diversity of intervention and treatment approaches

The curriculum will include functional partnerships with local and state services, such as Arms Acres, Cove Care Center, Drug Crisis in Our Backyard, The Harris Project, New York Department of Education and New York Department of Health.

“Just with the subject nature, each lesson will root in the MHS core values of compassion, resiliency, risk-taking, and problem solving,” Nierman said.  “Twenty-seven students have already registered for this elective and will learn to view difficult situations from a new perspective. Students may or may not have a personal connection to substance abuse and addiction issues. Regardless, this course will help them gain the knowledge and skills for challenges they may face.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), nearly 50 percent of all high school seniors nationwide have used some sort of illicit drugs in their lifetimes. Furthermore, 60 percent of them had consumed alcohol within their last year of school. As illicit substance abuse continues to increase in the United States, so does the need for qualified, dedicated professionals to treat those suffering from addiction. 

“This is why we included the OASAS (New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports) certification component to the elective which will provide each student the first-level of becoming a certified substance abuse counselor,” Bugge said.

Mahopac High School is the first school in the state of New York to request and be granted approval as an OASAS Education and Training Provider. The Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) is the sole New York State credential to require the specialized addiction training needed to fully understand and treat the intricacies of addiction and at the completion of this elective, Mahopac student participants will earn their first-tier (85 hours) of certification towards the 350 hours required to be credentialed a substance abuse counselor.

The certified substance abuse counselor has a wide variety of employment options and is in high demand. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health counselor employment is projected to grow 22 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. This job growth is expected as people continue to seek addiction and mental health counseling.

Falling fourth to California, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, New York has the highest employment level in this occupation in the nation. Furthermore, the Bureau reports that the New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania metropolitan area has the highest employment level in this occupation and the highest annual mean wage of $56,400.

With just a prerequisite of successfully completing a required state health education class, any Mahopac junior or senior may register for this elective that offers the potential for a bright career path. 

In learning the reality of substance abuse, addiction, and recovery together, Mahopac High School students will likely transform it. And that’s promising.