Austin tries new approach to athletes’ substance abuse

A Minnesota school district is putting weight behind the philosophy that substance abuse deserves treatment more than punishment.

Up until recently, the long-time policy for athletes in the Austin, Minn., schools was if a player is caught using chemicals, they’re benched for nine games or nine weeks, whichever is longer. A second offense carries a one-year suspension from the sport. A third infraction carries an additional year’s suspension.

The school board, however, is changing things up according to the Austin Daily Herald. A first infraction now costs two games or two weeks, a second leads to a six game suspension or three weeks.

Is this “going light” or “going smart”?

The consensus for the chemical use policy was to have a policy that supports the student in a positive way by keeping him or her close to a circle of support that comes from positive teammates and coaches. That is a dramatic turn from the old policy, whose “tough love” approach might also isolate the student, leaving him or her on a springboard to violate the policy again.

[Activities Director Lisa] Quednow said the new policy is especially important now “with today’s chemical use and the culture of today’s chemical use.”

She hopes to see more done with the Captains Council, made up of team captains who could provide more positive role modeling. The planning and implementation (P & I) grant work, done with Bill Spitzer, who works within the school, also focuses on positive choices.

The new policy isn’t going to effect that many students, mind you; only about 10-15 students a year are disciplined for chemical use.

But it does underscore a growing culture that professionals dealing with the larger opioid epidemic have been trying to create.