Anne Arundel Co. high school students have access to in-school substance abuse counselors

High school students in Anne Arundel County now have access to substance abuse counselors when they're at school. The confidential program, called STAR or Screening Teens to Access Recovery, is the first of its kind in Maryland.

The nurse's office has always been a safe place for students to get help, but when it comes to drug addiction, the answer isn't so simple.

Thanks to the new STAR program, students at Annapolis High School, and every other high school in the county can now instantly video chat with a licensed professional specifically trained to handle substance abuse and mental health issues.

"I would use it because your nurse doesn't have to know, your friends don't have to know, your teachers, anybody… just you, and that specific expert/therapist, that knows what they are talking about," said student Ramona Cabauatan.

As the STAR name suggests, it includes a drug screening, which helps the therapist develop a treatment plan.

While students are more apt to use a service that's confidential and discrete, some would argue parents should know if their child has a drug abuse problem.

"It's a first step. It's just opening the door and I will say teenagers are resistant to seeking help. They are afraid of revealing they have a problem and they might be worried they are going to be arrested [or] expelled from school," said school nurse Kate Kramer.

School officials say the program knocks down barriers and is designed to help students get to a point where they can admit they need help to their loved ones.

"I would say to parents that I want each of their children, whether they are working through mental health issues or substance abuse issues, struggling in their algebra class, whatever the issue is... I want them to have a go-to person that can help them out," said Annapolis High School principal Patrick Gelinas.

The county health department partnered with local schools to launch the program last week. Within two days, the high school says they had a student use the program.

Schools in Anne Arundel County are still trying to get the word out to students, but if it catches on, we will likely see other counties adopt similar programs.