TRENTON, NJ - Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), who is chairman of the state Senate Health Committee, introduced a bill on Jan. 23 that would expand the use of an evidence-based screening and referral program to public and private high schools statewide.

If passed, high school students in New Jersey would receive annual addiction-risk assessments.

Research shows that a majority of people who develop a substance-use disorder began using before they turned 18, Vitale said.

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“Screening for risk factors or red flags during the high school years will provide an opportunity for early intervention and might help to prevent addiction before it even begins,” he said.

Drugs and alcohol are contributors to the three leading causes of teen deaths, the bill states, and opiate addiction and deaths from overdose continue to rise in New Jersey and nationally.

According to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 percent of New Jersey high school students have been offered, sold, or given an illegal drug by someone on school property.

If approved, all high schools in New Jersey will provide for an annual written or verbal substance use screening to be conducted on each student in grade nine through grade 12. The screening will assess the student’s risk for substance abuse. 

If the student screens positive, the person administering the screening will provide brief counseling and assist the student with referral to treatment options, if needed.

The board of education will provide written notice to the parent or guardian of a student prior to the student being screened.  A student’s parent or guardian may opt the student out of the screening.

“By having trained professionals on hand and ready to recognize the early indicators of substance use and screening our youth during their critical high school years, with the necessary privacy protections, we can have a better chance at fighting the drug crisis in New Jersey,” Vitale noted.