Gosnold & Cape Cod Schools Team Up On Prevention

In another move to tackle the drug epidemic on Cape Cod, Gosnold and the schools are working together, putting substance abuse counselors in the schools to reach young people sooner than later.

“We are trying to get on the other end of the addiction cycle,” said Patricia M. Mitrokostas, director of prevention at Gosnold.

The program is part of a prevention initiative launched by Gosnold as it takes a broader view of the addiction problem, seeing it as a chronic condition that can be prevented or intervened with before bigger problems arise.

“This has always been on the back burner,” said Raymond V. Tamasi, president and chief executive officer of Gosnold, “as we have been thinking how better to treat drug abuse. We need to do a lot more to identify problems earlier before people’s lives are compromised.”

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Mr. Tamasi and others saw a need for more help in the schools after former NBA basketball player Chris Herren talked at the Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in Harwich last April about his struggle with addiction. A few days afterward he received more than 100 e-mails from students who had problems with substance abuse themselves or had friends and family who were struggling. Mr. Tamasi met with school administrators and heard about the challenges they faced.

“We began to think more in earnest on how to impact schools in regard to prevention and early intervention,” Mr. Tamasi said.

The idea was to make services more accessible to students. Placing counselors in school made sense.

“Kids spend much of their time in school,” said Ashley Symington, a counselor at Cape Cod Tech. “Putting resources here is a good idea before issues escalate.”

The counselors are Gosnold employees, yet they become a part of the school and easily recognized by the students. The counselors work to help troubled students, but also are also trying to change the culture around drugs, supporting young people who choose to say no, Mr. Tamasi said.

“The counselor is part of the school team,” Ms. Mitrokostas said, “but somewhat separate from school staff, so kids can go to them.”

When Ms. Symington started at Cape Cod Tech last November she began by becoming familiar with staff and the school culture. Currently she has a caseload of about 20 students referred to her by teachers or by themselves. She also leads classroom discussions on substance abuse and  meetings of Project Purple, an offshoot of The Herren Project, a nonprofit started by Mr. Herren, which supports young people who say no to drugs. Ms. Symington said she spends about 50 percent of her time on prevention and the rest on intervention.

Seven counselors are part of the program serving five districts, including the Lawrence School  in Falmouth, Barnstable schools, and Sturgis Charter Public School in Hyannis. Falmouth High School had a counselor, but the position needs to be filled.

“I think it is critical at this point,” said Nancy R. Taylor, director of pupil services for Falmouth Public Schools and the former principal of Lawrence School. She and Ms. Mitrokostas worked together to write the grant to fund a counselor at Lawrence School when Ms. Mitrokostas was heading Falmouth Prevention Partnership. Since then the partnership has teamed up with Gosnold and together they have received funding from United Way of Cape Cod, Cape Cod Healthcare Community Benefits Division, and Tower Foundation to support the program.

Maintaining the program long term can be the challenge. When Ms. Taylor first started in the district years ago, they had substance abuse counselors in schools, but then the funding dried up.

The plan is for the program to spread into Mashpee and other districts in the fall as well as to more schools in Falmouth.

“They would all like one,” Ms. Taylor said of the Falmouth schools. “We are seeing effects with learning in even our younger students impacted by substance abuse within the family.”

Ms. Taylor added that school resource officers from the Falmouth Police Department educate students at the high school and Lawrence school about drug abuse.

For Mr. Tamasi, going into the schools is the first step of a broad prevention initiative that he hopes will spread into the community. The next phase is to reach out to parents on how to talk to young people about substance abuse and raise awareness in communities, developing prevention coalitions unique to each town.

Problems with drug use tend to run in cycles, Mr. Tamasi said. In the 1970s there was a spike in heroin use and in the 1980s cocaine. And in the last six to nine months, the opiate crisis has exploded in this area.

“We need to bend the curve,” Mr. Tamasi said. “Rather than waiting for the curve to die on its own.”

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