A unique school in our region is helping students recovering from substance abuse get their lives and their education back on track.

John Fallis is the director of a very special school/treatment centre near Shelburne. The Pine River Institute helps teens recover from drug and alcohol addictions. Fallis says this facility is often a parent’s last hope for their teenager.

“They are crying out for some help, they realize that some of the other treatments haven't worked and they are still in the same shape. They see their child spiralling downward toward no future or even death so they call us and they are absolutely desperate to get their child in here or another program like this as quick as possible.”

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 13% of teens in Ontario may be addicted to illicit drugs, 18% report abusing alcohol. That means 3,500 students in Simcoe County are struggling with addictions and 4,500 with dangerous drinking habits.

The identities of the students in treatment are closely guarded and while at the institute they eat, sleep, and study until they have earned some basic privileges and ultimately go home.

It's not unusual for students to stay at the Pine River Institute for more than a year - getting clean and sober. But when they leave there is always a risk that will fall back into their old habits especially if they return to their old school and the same circle of friends. 

Eileen Shewen is a public health policy researcher who wants to improve the odds for young people who are recovering from addictions. She says special recovery schools are needed in Ontario for teens struggling with addictions similar to many schools already operating in the U.S.

“We need federal, provincial and municipal leaders to support the concept of recovery schools moving forward. Educators have to realize that we can't be a be all to end all to all populations of students in this province, so we have to be looking at alternate solutions and this is one of them.”

Jane Laker knows first-hand what it's like to have a teen addicted to drugs and is calling for more resources to tackle the issue.

“It's everyone's problem, we need to fill this gap, we have some incredible treatment facilities not enough of them we have no recovery high schools we need them now,” said the Barrie resident.

According to Shewen there is an immediate need for at least two recovery schools in Simcoe County alone, each would accommodate about 40 students.