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Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

A New Path in School District #22 (Vernon)

Our substance abuse prevention policies and procedures

Doug Rogers

Reprinted from "Schools" issue of Visions Journal, 2009, 5 (2), pp. 25-26

In School District #22, we have a simple philosophy with respect to drug and alcohol issues. We ask, what would I do if my child had a drug problem? This uncomplicated philosophy shapes our programs and actions.

The days of permanently removing students from school for drug use are over—at least in our school district. We have a commitment to educating kids right through grade 12 completion, and that education includes learning how to live a healthy life.

Young adults do need clear rules and expectations, however, and they need stiff consequences for poor behaviour.

In 2003, we spent 12 months reviewing drug and alcohol policies and procedures from over 80 school districts from around the globe. Our goal was to reduce substance use by students and help kids who are suffering with addiction issues. We created a straightforward policy based, in part, on the four pillars paradigm of harm reduction, prevention, treatment and enforcement.1

Our four pillars:

  • Prevention—In partnership with the Centre for Addictions Research of BC (CARBC), we have been piloting a series of classroom lesson plans on drug and alcohol abuse prevention (grades six and seven in 2007/08; grades eight, nine and 10 in 2008/09). We’ve also done significant professional development with our teachers and administrators, specifically in the area of substance abuse prevention and treatment.

  • Intervention—All secondary school counsellors have been trained in the counselling technique called motivational interviewing.2 This technique was created for dealing with youth who have substance use issues. Counsellors can also send students directly to any of our local agency partners that provide treatment programs for kids with substance use issues. Additionally, all students who have been suspended must meet with SD#22’s District Substance Abuse Prevention Counsellor before they can return to their regular classes. The district counsellor will screen each child for potential drug or alcohol problems using a number of screening tools, including CRAFFT,3 DUST4 and GAIN.5

  • EnforcementTeachers and administrators have been trained detect drug use in their students. When students are caught using (in the act of using or post-use), they are suspended from school for up to five days.

  • Treatment—Students who request help, or who are caught for the second time in the same school year using an illicit substance, are required to go to one of three treatment programs: Axis Intervention Centre, Vernon Treatment Centre (VTC) or to a residential facility arranged by the Interior Health Authority. The school district partially or fully funds VTC and Axis services, and funding partnerships with the United Way and VTC ensure that kids all have access to treatment. Residential treatment is covered by the Ministry of Health.

    • Axis Intervention Centre is for kids who are new to substance use (i.e., grade seven or eight students) or who have a history of problematic use but still function in school. Axis offers a five-session, weekly intervention/treatment program.

    • The Vernon Treatment Centre offers a two-week day program for our kids who are struggling with a significant drug problem.

    • The third option is Interior Health’s Alcohol and Drug Services for a referral to residential treatment—usually Peak House in Vancouver. Interior Health is also a fantastic resource for our students who are suffering from a concurrent disorder.

And, since substance abuse is a family disease, we strongly encourage the parents of these children to enroll in, and complete, a parenting course at the North Okanagan Youth and Family Services Society (NOYFSS).

Our ‘fifth pillar’

The final aspect of our program is public education. Through our Partners in Prevention program, we regularly host public forums. Topics always deal with substance abuse, and featured guests include doctors, researchers, police, lawyers, public health officials, impacted parents and drug and alcohol specialists.

Our public information sessions are promoted on one of our local radio stations, as well as in school newsletters. Also, the District Substance Abuse Prevention Counsellor regularly writes a column in the local newspaper.

What does our practice look like?

The following is a step-by-step description of what happens when a student requests help or is caught using or under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

  • Self-reporting—When a student comes forward and asks for help, they are not given a disciplinary consequence. They are simply screened and assigned a treatment plan.

  • Enforcement—Students caught using or under the influence of drugs or alcohol are suspended from school for up to five days and referred to the district substance abuse prevention counsellor, and, a letter is sent to their parent(s). If a student is caught a second time in the same school year, they may be sent to see the school district’s Assistant Superintendent. At that meeting, the Assistant Superintendent may assign the student to a treatment centre, or may change the student’s educational placement if treatment hasn’t been effective in creating change in a student. Relocating the student serves to sever relationships with other kids they’ve been buying from and/or using with.

    • Dealing or supplying—Students caught dealing or supplying drugs, alcohol or ‘look alike’ substances (e.g., over-the-counter pharmaceuticals passed off as ecstasy; oregano standing in for marijuana) are suspended for two weeks and referred to the Assistant Superintendent. They may be moved to an alternate educational setting—usually adult education. The RCMP are also consulted.

  • Education—Each student must complete an online assignment before they return to school. The assignment is designed to raise the awareness and knowledge base of the student and their parent(s). The parent(s) must sign the completed assignment before the student can return to school. If a student doesn’t have access to a computer, a hard copy of the assignment can be obtained from the school. The assignment is available online at (Click on Students; click on Student Support Services; then on Suspension Learning Assignment.)

  • Intervention—Each student meets with the District Substance Abuse Prevention Counsellor. At that meeting, the student is screened for problematic substance use behaviours and, when applicable, assigned to a treatment program. For students who prefer help from outside the school system, an appointment is arranged with Interior Health Alcohol and Drug Services.

  • Treatment—When it is appropriate, students are assigned to a treatment program, and their parents are encouraged to seek help from local agencies.

  • Post-care—After the completion of a treatment program, students are seen by the District Substance Abuse Prevention Counsellor and/or school counsellor, and they attend a post-care program (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous).

It’s working

Our policy and process is working. Referrals to administrators have significantly declined and students are self-referring at higher numbers each year. We are allied with places where our young adults and their families can get the help they need. And, students who would have dropped out or been ‘kicked out’ of school in the past are remaining in school, graduating, living healthier lives and contributing to society.

For more information, contact Doug Rogers at 250-549-6179 or [email protected].

About the author
Doug is the District Substance Abuse Prevention Counsellor for School District #22 (Vernon
  1. City of Vancouver. (2008). Four Pillars Drug Strategy Fact Sheet

  2. For more information on motivational interviewing, visit

  3. CRAFFT is a screening test developed by the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research (CeASAR) at Children’s Hospital Boston.

  4. DUST (Drug Use Screening Tool) was developed by the Kent and Medway Drug and Alcohol Action Teams in the UK.

  5. GAIN (Global Appraisal of Individual Needs) is a biopsychosocial assessment tool developed by Chestnut Health Systems in Illinois.


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