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Lesniak & Vitale Want Students With Substance Abuse Problems To Qualify For Special Services Resolution

Urges Revision To Federal Disabilities Law

Press Release 3/3/16

TRENTON – A Senate committee today approved a legislative resolution authored by Senator Raymond Lesniak and Senator Joe Vitale urging a revision to federal standards so that students with substance abuse problems can qualify for special education services. The bill, SJR-21, calls on Congress and the President to update the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to include students with drug or alcohol problems, allowing them to receive special education and treatment services in schools.

“Alcoholism and drug addiction are recognized as a disease that should be treated as a medical condition,” said Senator Lesniak. “Substance abuse can cause significant impairment of the ability to function, health problems and the inability to meet responsibilities at school, home or work. If their condition is treated as a disability they can qualify for school-based services that can help them to live free of drugs and alcohol.”

This bill would urge the President and the Congress of the United States to enact legislation amending the “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act” (IDEA) to include “substance use disorder” as one of the disabilities that would qualify a child as a “child with a disability” under the act.  As a “child with a disability,” a student with substance use disorder will be eligible for special education programs and services.

“Exposure to alcohol and drugs during the vulnerable period of adolescent development can lead to acute cognitive difficulties,” said Senator Vitale. “These problems make it more difficult to function. Studies also show that substance use plays a role in increasing the risk for dropping out of school.”

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, substance use disorders occur when the recurrent use of alcohol or drugs, or both, causes clinically and functionally significant impairment.

The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimated 1.3 million United States adolescents, ages 12 to 17, had a substance use disorder in 2014. This represents 5 percent or about 1 in 20 of all adolescents.

There is a strong consensus among addiction and education experts regarding the necessary steps for improving youth recovery services in educational settings including the recognition of substance abuse as a disabling condition under the Disabilities Act so that students can receive  services under the IDEA.

The legislation was approved by the Senate Education Committee.

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