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4 years in, NCADA's substance-related counseling program is helping hundreds of St. Louis-area teens

Nichole Dawsey, at left, is the executive director of NCADA, a local organization that has been providing education and prevention services related to drugs and alcohol since 1965. Nisha Patel is an assistant superintendent for the Fox C-6 School  Distric
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

In the midst of a nationwide opioid epidemic among U.S. adults, one organization in the St. Louis region is seeing some more positive trends among younger people when it comes to substance use.

On Monday, NCADA announced that of the nearly 600 St. Louis-area adolescents who have participated in its Transitional Counseling Program since 2014, more than 75 percent successfully abstain from substance use throughout their enrollment in the grant-funded program, and more than 65 percent are still abstaining six months later.

“That’s pretty significant,” executive director Nichole Dawsey said of the numbers while talking with host Don Marsh on St. Louis on the Air. “The biggest area of impact that we have seen – and this is both anecdotally and in the quantitative data – is the improved relationships between teens and their caregivers as a direct result of this program.”

Nisha Patel, assistant superintendent for secondary education in the Fox C-6 School District, has seen positive outcomes in her own district, which has partnered with NCADA for four years now.

“We have a 90 percent [TCP] completion rate,” Patel said. “So when students come to me for making poor choices, absolutely they have consequences, but our biggest goal is, ‘How do we transition them back into school to be successful in life and get through high school?’”

TCP has proved pivotal in that regard, she said.

“As educators we get into this field to change lives,” Patel explained. “Our students that are coming to us right now, we need to get them ready for college, career or just plain life. And … the world today is very different from the way the world was when probably all three of us went to school. With the smartphones and the access to social media, we’re having a lot of students experiment, more and more, with drugs and alcohol.

“So one of the things that we wanted to do is to make sure that when kids do experiment with something like that, that we have not only just [the option of] disciplining the kids but we have a program in place that can help them overcome that.”

Currently dependent on funding from the Missouri Foundation for Health that runs out at the end of the year, the program is free to those it serves and runs anywhere for four to six weeks. Dawsey said it originated in an effort to “close the motivation gap” that NCADA staff were noticing after completing the sorts of assessments the organization has been providing for more than five decades.

“Particularly with our adolescents, we were finding a high motivation to change once they left our office, but then we did some follow ups, [and] they weren’t taking the steps that our counselors had recommended,” Dawsey said. “And so we really were kind of scratching our heads figuring out why that was.”

TCP, she added, helps schools, students and families with the “now what” aspect of substance-related incidents.

“Let’s say that you have a young person that gets caught juuling or vaping in the school bathroom,” Dawsey said. “Let’s say they are caught coming drunk to a school dance. Does that teenager need treatment? Maybe. Maybe not. Does the school need to act on that? Absolutely. Many schools, though, are not necessarily equipped to deal with that, and many teens and their families need some sort of resource to help them navigate that.

“Because when the families are faced with that decision – like, ‘Oh man, now what do we do? Our teenager got in trouble with their school, they’re suspended, or now they’re being connected with a juvenile officer. What do we do now?’ And that’s where we stepped in.”

Related resource
For more information about the Transitional Counseling Program, call NCADA at 314-962-3456 or visit the website at ncada-stl.org.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie HemphillLara Hamdan and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.