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Assemblymember Ward Introduces Bill to Provide a Public Health Approach to Student Substance Use

For immediate release:

(SACRAMENTO, CA) – Substance use among youth –– including tobacco, alcohol, abuse of prescription drugs, or other illicit drug use –– can develop into lifelong health and mental health problems. AB 599 will give school administrators and teachers more tools to address substance use in our schools by requiring the California Department of Education to create a model for how to handle situations when students are found with illicit drug paraphernalia on campus. It will also allow school faculty to develop a plan for students while collaborating with local stakeholders, such as community-based organizations, educational agencies and treatment providers.

“AB 599 creates a balance between a clear policy for addressing inappropriate behavior and providing a supportive school environment so students who have substance use issues can get the help that they need,” said Assemblymember Ward (D-San Diego). “Schools should have the option to take a public health approach instead of a punitive one, giving school counselors, social workers and substance use disorder counselors the flexibility to address the problem and get students on the road to recovery.”

Currently, most schools in California have few options other than suspensions, expulsions and policing to address substance use issues for students. In 2022, there were 3,200 drug-related suspensions, making up about 20% of all suspensions. However, according to data from the 2017-2019 California Student Survey, 16% of eleventh-graders said they have drank alcohol and 16% admitted to using marijuana. 

“When our youth struggle with substances, that is the time to bring them in, not shut them out,” said Senior Director of Children Now Lishaun Francis. AB 599 will do just that — provide an opportunity to connect with youth who are struggling, guiding them onto a healthier path.”