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UT Knoxville Launches Program to Fight Underage Drinking, Teen Drug Abuse

by Cedric Dent

September 19, 2022
UT Knoxville is targeting highschool youth for underage drinking and teen drug abuse intervention.

Last year, University of Tennessee-Knoxville launched Knox County’s first highschool-based, addiction treatment advocacy program. Faculty and students proved eager to support the initiative, which began in July 2021. Codenamed “Elevate,” the program is tasked with addressing underage drinking and teen drug abuse. More recently, the partnership between UT Knoxville, the Knox County School District and the Helen Ross McNabb Center produced inaugural testimonials attesting to its efficacy.

Addiction Treatment Milestones for Elevate 2021-2022

Elevate’s 2021-2022 cohort includes nine students whose success was touted as evidence of the program’s success in May 2022. Collectively, these enrollees boasted of 73 weeks between them being clean from their respective problem substances by that time. Elevate specifically targets drug and alcohol addiction. Ideally, the program aims to get these students to reform their habits and successfully graduate from highschool with as many healthy life choices available to them as possible.

“It’s extremely rewarding to get to know these kids and to see their progress,” said Harley Taylor, an Elevate counsellor. “Generally, when we meet a kid, it’s not the same kid we see today or even a week after. It’s usually a different kid.” 

Students of the Knox County School District who enroll in the Elevate program get direct intervention. They have close to two hours of group therapy every day. They’re invited to attend family or individual therapy on top of that. Additionally, they learn to develop healthy hobbies to distract the mind from the unhealthy habits they’re putting away.

Elevate’s Inception at UT Knoxville

“If we’re going to mitigate the opioid crisis in Tennessee, we need to start with our students,” said Jennifer Tourville, a clinical nursing professor at UT-Knox. “They need our resources, first and foremost.” 

Tourville is the director for UT’s Substance Misuse Community of Scholars. She’s also one of three faculty members who founded the Elevate program. The others were social work professor Shandra Forrest-Bank and advertising and public relations professor Courtney Childers. Forrest-Bank also directs the Social Work Office of Research and Public Service (SWORPS).

From the beginning, the initiative had collaboration from the Metro Drug Coalition, too. Elevate is only the 44th program of its kind to be established anywhere in the U.S. and the first in Tennessee. Programs like these in other states typically require students to transfer in from base schools. Elevate makes no such requirement. Students report to the McNabb Center Monday through Friday for outpatient treatment and classroom instruction. Their highschool transcripts also don’t show that they participated in Elevate, keeping them anonymous

“The name [Elevate] is meant to be seen as a reminder that no matter where you are in life, you can always raise or elevate to better yourself,” according to the executive summary written by the ADvocates, a group of Childers’s students. 

How It WorksHighschool students in Knox County Schools are seeing UT Knoxville facilitate a program to treat them for underage drinking and teen drug abuse.

“This is not a separate highschool; this is a program,” said Daphne Odom, special education supervisor for Knox County Schools. “It’s important to make that distinction. To defeat stigma, we need to show those in recovery are not separate from their communities.”

That’s why enrollees won’t have Elevate listed on their transcripts. In fact, if they complete the program at the same time that they graduate highschool, they will receive their diploma from their original school. The program also comes with an assessment M.O. implemented by Emily McCutcheon. McCutcheon’s a senior research associate for SWORPS. The significance of that is the fact that there’s very little data on what the best design model is for programs like this. Therefore, any such program needs to be able to evaluate itself. Moreover, that data will, in turn, benefit other programs like it throughout the rest of the country.

“Although there are best practice guidelines available, the evidence to support recovery highschool design is scarce and prior results are mixed,” Forrest-Bank said.

No-alcohol, Drug-free Schooling Powered by UT Knoxville

Elevate provides a healthy campus environment and coordinated care with the aid of third-party organizations. It also still proceeds with enrollees’ varsity-level education in the meantime. Even though instructors are teaching the students, though, Elevate is not recognized as its own school within the district. Elevate also offers virtual learning options for Knox County students.

If you know of a Knox County Schools student affected by substance use disorder, refer them to Elevate. Anyone now over the age of 18, but still in need of addiction treatment should visit Landmark Recovery of Knoxville, which provides residential treatment as well as outpatient services and recovery coaching They can also call 865.448.5174.

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