There are many reasons to venerate Rutgers, but here’s something you probably don’t know about our State University: It was the first college in the country to provide housing for young students in recovery struggling with addiction – that was in 1988, founded by Lisa Laitman – and today it remains the gold standard for nurturing students with abuse issues.
Consider this: The Recovery House – comprising 38 beds in New Brunswick and eight more in Newark – has boasted a sobriety rate of 95 percent over the last six years, while retaining 98 percent of its residents in an age when substance abuse contributes to three out of 10 dropouts.
They succeed through compassion and daily support through mandatory meetings and counseling sessions and group activities. And academically, they also have serious game: The average GPA over the last six years is 3.2.
Now imagine if Recovery Housing can be expanded throughout New Jersey’s university system – at zero cost to taxpayers.
That opportunity now exists through a bill that is awaiting the Governor’s signature. It is part of the seminal drug treatment package spearheaded by Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), which addresses all the elements of addiction with a comprehensive approach that covers prevention, education, treatment and recovery.
This particular bill would require four-year schools with at least 25 percent of its student body living on campus to establish recovery housing. It is not a difficult thing to do: A school can simply dedicate a couple of floors in a dorm, along with a common room for mentoring services and peer-support activities.
This bill directs schools to apply for private grants to subsidize their programs – much of it going to support staff and to fund group activities – and it gives them four years to be in compliance. If you wonder whether there is a need, ask Frank Greenagel, the Executive Director at College Recovery: When he was a counselor at Rutgers, they turned away 15 applicants a year, and student issues have skewed heavily toward opiate abuse in the last five years.
Anyone who understands the nature of addiction knows that growth for these programs is crucial. Put it this way: New Jersey already has one recovery high school named for State Senator Ray Lesniak, and those students will need a place to matriculate. And as Laitman put it, “Every collegiate program like this shows very high rates of recovery and low rates of relapse when a student is involved in a support community of like-minded people – and these programs do not cost millions.”
Two other schools in the state (William Paterson and TCNJ) provide the same sanctuary, but only a few dozen colleges nationally have similar programs, many of them launched with a grant from Transforming Youth Recovery, a philanthropy based in Reno, Nev.
But there is a historic opportunity here. The governor can standardize the movement.
“We are already a national leader,” Greenagel said. “Not that we want to be known as the drug addict state. But we have it in our means to be the drug recovery state.”