AUSTIN, Texas — University High School may have typical academic assignments, but it is far from tradition. The students are recovering from alcohol or substance abuse and learning how to trust once again.

“Recovery is about connection,” said Julie McElrath, executive director of University High School. “What we see is the students have become isolated. There’s a lack of connection both from peers their family and just really from kind of their normal activities in general.”

The school is part of the Travis County Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, which wants to rebuild connections. This spring they’re set to put a spotlight on the opioid epidemic’s impact on women.

“You just don’t envision your grandma, for example. You don’t envision … your daughter who's 13 years old (addicted to opioids).” said Vanessa Sarria, vice president of Cardea. The national nonprofit conducts training, evaluation and program management.

According to a report by the Office on Women’s Health, between 1999 and 2010, overdose deaths from prescription pain killers increased more than 400 percent among women.  Girls ages 12 to 17 are also more likely than boys to use psychotherapeutic drug for non-medical reasons.

“We have to start early. We have to start in these vulnerable years when they’re adolescents, and we need to be able to give them the skills to be able to cope,” Sarria said.

The coalition is preparing ready to roll out a training program for medical professionals throughout school districts under the Texas Education Agency’s Education Service Center’s Region 13.


  • Bell County - Bartlett ISD
  • Llano County - Llano ISD
  • Burnet County - Burnet CISD, Marble Falls ISD
  • Williamson County - Coupland ISD, Florence ISD, Georgetown ISD, Granger ISD, Hutto ISD, Jarrell ISD, Leander ISD, Liberty Hill ISD, Round Rock ISD, Taylor ISD, Thrall SID, SWU
  • Milam County - Thorndale ISD
  • Gillespie County - Doss CISD, Fredericksburg ISD, Harper ISD
  • Blanco County - Blanco ISD, Johnson City ISD
  • Travis County - Austin ISD, Del Valle ISD, Eanes ISD, Lake Travis ISD, Lago Vista ISD, Manor ISD, Pflugerville ISD, Region 13, TSB, TSD, HTC, CUA, SEU, UTA
  • Bastrop County - Bastrop ISD, Elgin ISD, McDade ISD, Smithville ISD
  • Lee County - Dime Box ISD, Giddings ISD, Giddings State School, Lexington ISD
  • Kendall County - Comfort ISD
  • Comal County - Comal ISD, New Braunfels ISD
  • Hays County - Dripping Springs ISD, Hays CISD, San Marcos CISD, Wimberley ISD, Texas State
  • Caldwell County - Lockhart ISD, Luling ISD, Prairie Lea ISD
  • Fayette County - Fayetteville ISD, Flatonia ISD, La Grange ISD, Round Top- Carmine ISD, Schulenburg ISD
  • Guadalupe County - Marion ISD, Navarro ISD, Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD, Seguin ISD, Texas Lutheran University (TLU)
  • Gonzales County - Gonzales ISD, Nixon-Smiley CISD, Waelder ISD

“We thought, ‘OK, who is connected to young people … in an everyday setting?’ and those are school nurses,” Sarria said.

Lessons cover evidence based intervention, trends among teenage girls, and how and when to screen for misuse, among other topics.

“It would open the door for young women to come in and feel supported,” McElrath said.