Ward Melville To Lead Pilot Program That Will Soon Be Available To Every District In Suffolk County, As War Against Drugs Rages On


EAST SETAUKET, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — There’s a new form of teamwork in the battle against substance abuse.

High school coaches on Long Island have been enlisted to help spot drug and alcohol abusers and respond with support.

It’s a pilot program in Suffolk County that’s expanding, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported Tuesday.

The athletic might of Ward Melville High School is evident from all of the school’s championship plaques. But now, a district that boasts New York Mets pitcher Steven Matz is helping to champion a different kind of team work. It’s the first school district in Suffolk County to train all 60 of its athletic coaches to spot substance abuse.

(Photo: CBS2)

“What to do with that information. How to engage that student not with stigma and judgment, but to engage them with empathetic and compassionate dialogue,” said Steven Chassman of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

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The training will soon be available to every school district in Suffolk. It is the brainchild of Legislator Kara Hahn, who, herself, is a mother of athletes. She saw an untapped resource closest to kids.

“School coaches are uniquely positioned and have the ability to be influencers in the lives of student-athletes both on and off the field,” Hahn said.

“We are arming the people who are really on the front lines of the issue — coaches, athletic directors, the people who are spending time with these kids in an area where there’s a higher risk for them to become addicted,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said.

High risk for opioid addiction because of injury, like Krista Bertschi’s son, Anthony, an injured athlete who was prescribed pain medications and then suffered a fatal heroin overdose.

“What made him go out that night and do that, I think it was because the pain medication got into his system and he wasn’t getting or more pills,” Bertschi said.

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She believes coaches can recognize subtle clues parents may not. The training covers vaping and alcohol, too. Coaches may report concerns to parents on a case-by-case basis.

“Teenagers have a lot to endure right now, and we need to be there to help them,” Ward Melville Athletic Director Peter Melore said.

The training course won’t turn coaches into instant therapists, but it will better educate them to recognize a problem and empower them to intervene.

Paid for by a $100,000 grant, the course will be available to every school district in Suffolk County this summer and fall.

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