INDIANAPOLIS — Christian Garcia is a senior at Hope Academy. He says he was 14-years-old when he started using drugs.
"A lot of marijuana, a lot a lot of alcohol, a couple of psychedelics," Garcia said.
After rehab in Montana for three months, Hope Academy was his next stop.
He's now starting his second year at Indiana's only recovery high school. Hope Academy serves 9th through 12th grade students.
"I have over a year of sobriety put together," Garcia said. "I'm happy. I can sleep at night. I am okay with who I am today. My future is starting to come back."
Hope Academy Executive Director Rachelle Gardner says Garcia's story is not unique.
"We know that students are using around 10, 11, 12-years-old," Gardner said.
In order to intervene earlier, Hope Academy is creating a new pilot program that will target 8th graders in local school districts.
The program is launching with funding from a $280,000 grant from Mental Health America of Indiana.
Hope Academy also plans to hire a therapist with the funding.
"When you're looking at students struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, the amount of resources are declining. So, recovery schools are having to fill a bigger gap," Gardner said.
Gardner says the therapeutic program will also eliminate barriers to therapy, like cost and transportation.
"We just came out of a pandemic. Our kids have strong mental health issues, lots of anxiety, lots of depression. They don't have the desire to do anything besides drug use," Gardner said.
Hope Academy students currently work with recovery coaches that focus on helping students develop a sober lifestyle.
"As well as coping skills, since a lot of different emotions spill out once you are getting sober," Caroline Vas, Hope Academy's Director of Student Recovery, said. "How can we cope effectively and build back relationships with our parents and friends?"
The new therapist will collaborate with recovery coaches to better support students.
Gardner says the need for their services is in high demand. A new student enrolls nearly every day.
"It’s a scary time for us, fentanyl is found in almost everything. When you take a substance, you don’t now what’s in that. It could be the last time you get to make that choice," Gardner said.
She has a message for parents.
“We need to educate ourselves. We need to make sure we understand Delta 8 or Delta 9 that’s being sold in stores is THC, it is addictive. Our students don’t just use it a little bit, they use them a lot. Their whole goal is to feel altered to be in an altered state."