Several years ago, I attended a conference with addiction and drug diversion experts in Boston, as 3 teenagers and a woman named Michelle Lipinski sat down at the table in front of our group. We were at a Tufts University program being led by Nathaniel Katz, MD, MS, director of the Center for Opioid Research, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and director of the Pain Research Division, Inflexxion Inc, Newton, Massachusetts, and he had arranged for this foursome from the Northshore Recovery High School (NSRHS) near Boston to talk about their program.
To provide some background, NSRHS was developed to specifically meet the needs of high school students who have had a history of substance abuse but who have made a firm commitment to recovery. With a mission focused on education, community, and accountability, NSRHS provides sober students a high school environment that is free from the culture of drugs and alcohol, while it fosters an ethic of honesty and mutual respect, promotes accountability to oneself and to the community, and helps to prepare students for higher education, military service, or employment.
Over the next 90 minutes, I learned that Michelle Lipinski is the director of the school and closely involved with the students. Lipinski explained the program, and then each of the teenagers took turns discussing in great detail their road to addiction and almost certain death without the resource of this high school. The work being done at this school is nothing short of phenomenal.
In the audience was my good friend, Marsha Stanton, PhD, RN, now director of advocacy and external affairs for King Pharmaceuticals, who was as impressed as I was. I discussed with Dr. Stanton the possibility of bringing the program we had just witnessed to our annual National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators national conference.
In November 2008, Dr. Stanton was able to provide funding that brought Lipinski and her teenagers to our national conference. The presentation occurred in front of more than 350 attendees at one of our luncheons, and you could have heard a pin drop before it was over. Later that evening, health professionals in the Nashville area were also invited and had a similar response to what they heard.
Since then, I have been blessed with the good fortune, thanks to Dr. Stanton, of making a video with the group and appearing several times in various venues—the latest being in February 2010 in Lexington, Kentucky, to area health professionals. Once again, the audience packed the house to hear about this program and silence permeated during the presentation; then, the audience had probing questions of the teenagers and Lipinski when they were finished. Trust me when I tell you that Lipinski and the teenagers are the stars of this show, as I merely play a moderator’s role.
Their stage presence is impressive as they keep themselves composed while telling gruesome accounts of their addicted young lives and how they reached rock bottom before getting the help from NSRHS. They are frank in answering questions from the audience members who want to know how they got started and what parents and others could do to recognize this and put a halt to the downward spiral associated with addiction.
Although the teenagers talk about a variety of drugs, marijuana and/or alcohol seem to have started the ugly trek, with prescription drugs being a significant player in their world of addiction as they battled hydrocodone and oxycodone abuse—2 drugs that are readily available in the New England region in which they lived.
I cannot say enough about Lipinski, the mentor of these teenagers. She is an incredible woman who was never educated or trained in the field of addiction, but was tired of her kids dying and decided to do something about it. What she does at NSRHS is nothing short of a miracle in my opinion. Undoubtedly, she has saved countless young lives of individuals who made mistakes and virtually had nowhere else to turn.
Also, I would like to extend a grateful tip of my hat to Dr. Stanton and King Pharmaceuticals, who are making this program happen across the United States. Dr. Stanton holds the same passion toward this program as I do, and without the generous funding, the thousands of people who will see this presentation in 2010 would have missed a truly spectacular event.
To learn more about Lipinski and the Northshore Education Consortium, go to www.nsedu.org. ■