For more than a quarter century, the Kids Escaping Drugs Renaissance Campus required young people trying to recover from addiction to stay on-site at all times in a residential program.

The nonprofit agency didn’t have a reintegration program allowing residents a chance to go to school, work or volunteer off the West Seneca campus, and come back nightly to take stock of their continuing recovery.

That changed in recent weeks, as the agency added 30 new beds that will allow those ages 15 to 23 to extend their recovery, for up to a year, in a safer environment. Starting in January, some of those beds also can be used to help those starting recovery to do so in a safe space outside a hospital setting – a first in the state for those ages 15 to 17.

“Because so many young people needed services, we were really trying to pigeonhole them into the one level of service that we were licensed to provide,” agency Executive Director Robin Clouden said this week. “Now we have the ability to truly assess where that person is and treat them in the best possible way.”

The more personalized care also should help better address the high relapse rate that comes with the age group the agency serves, Clouden said.

Renaissance House opened in 1990 as a 31-bed residential rehab facility for male teens and young adults. Stepping Stones, a similar facility for young females, opened five years later.

A nearly $1.5 million expansion grant from the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services led to the opening on campus this weekend of Palmerton Place, which expands offerings of stabilization and reintegration for young females. Promise House was converted Nov. 1 to play the same role for males.

Young people who use the agencies service come from all races, creeds and economic backgrounds.

Staff has talked to thousands of students in schools across the region as part of its a Face2Face program to intervene before young people choose a path that leads to drug abuse.

During the last decade, a greater acceptance of “gateway drugs,” easy access to both legal and illegal drugs, and more permissive parenting have made that job more daunting, Clouden said. “We’ve normalized so many activities that years ago would have never been acceptable,” she said.

Jodie Altman, Renaissance Campus director, said marijuana – laced by some dealers with stronger drugs including fentanyl – along with children living through more trauma, including bullying, has hastened more addiction and mental illness. “I think technology – social media – is a big piece of this,” Altman said.

What are the primary drugs of choice for the young people who end up on campus?

“Nicotine, alcohol, marijuana – the three gateways,” Altman said. “We’ve seen an uptick in meth, especially in kids from rural areas. Cocaine has peeked its head back up a little bit. Then there are the opiates, and benzodiazepines: your Xanax, Valium, things like that, because they’re very accessible. Our primary drug for the younger kids is marijuana; for the older kids it’s opiates and the benzos.

“I would say the majority of our kids are addicted to more than one drug,” she added. “Kids are risk-takers and by nature of that, they’ll try what their friend tells them to try, and some of these things are almost immediately addicting. About 45 to 50 percent of those who are here have a diagnosable mental health condition.”

Young people who use the agencies come from all races, creeds and economic backgrounds.

Renaissance Campus runs structured programs whether residents stay on-site throughout the day or leave for outpatient services, work or school, and return in the evening. They have support group and individual counseling regularly. Families are included in much of the process.

“It’s critical families work with their child,” Altman said. “You don’t just drop your kid off and the kid gets better, and you come pick him up six months later. Your kid might be the one using drugs, but everyone around gets sick right with them.”

Kids Escaping Drugs has revamped its website and logo as part of its expansion. For more information, including resources on how to talk to your kids about drug use, visit ked.org or call 827-9462.

email: refresh@buffnews.com

Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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