Sofya Hawrylyshyn has been sober since March — a milestone the 19-year-old attributes to Denver Health’s adolescent substance abuse treatment program, which she joined last year.
Hawrylyshyn, who had depression and anxiety, began using drugs in high school and engaged in self-harm. Her parents, who weren’t sure what to do, sent her to a wilderness therapy program in Utah and then a therapeutic boarding school in Montana.
But it was Denver Health’s Substance Abuse Treatment, Education and Prevention program — or STEP — that offered Hawrylyshyn the consistency she said she needed with weekly therapy appointments and regular drug screenings.
“It really started from realizing I deserve better for myself and I deserve to feel good about living,” Hawrylyshyn said.
STEP provides substance use treatment to adolescents and is in at least 10 school-based health clinics in Denver Public Schools, said Crystal Potter Rivera, executive director of the Denver Health Foundation.
Substance use and overdose deaths have increased among Colorado teens in recent years.
STEP also has seen an increase in the number of adolescents seeking its services, said Dr. Mario Lintz, the program’s medical director.
“It’s become a new harsh and real reality in the work that we do,” he said.
Families are able to seek treatment via STEP themselves, but teachers also help with outreach if they suspect a student is struggling with substance use disorder, Potter Rivera said.
“Interrupting substance use is important at any phase of life,” Potter Rivera said. “But particularly when we are looking at youth — younger people — this is a really critical way to get to what is a life-long problem.”
The STEP program provides incentives, such as stickers, for patients who receive clean drug screenings and show up to therapy. The incentives have helped more adolescents reach abstinence, Potter Rivera said.
Hawrylyshyn said she received money through a VISA gift card that she used on self-care items, such as face masks, candles, nail polishes and books.
“It gives people a sense of freedom and it gives us a chance to do something nice for ourselves,” she said.
Hawrylyshyn said that once she began taking the STEP program seriously and showing up for appointments consistently she realized “this is actually worth it.”
“The only way you can get better is if you want to get better,” she said. “Life is so much more worth living in the present than using substances.”
Denver Health’s STEP program
Address: 660 N. Bannock St, Pavilion L, 4th Floor, Denver, CO 80204
In operation since: 2003
Number of employees: 22
Annual expenses: $1.3 million (hospital-based)
Number of clients served: 2,529 patients in 43,525 visits since 2017