PUBLISHED: 5:24 PM on Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Raven's Way helps youth conquer substance abuse
SITKA - Winter can be a vulnerable time for adolescents, especially those who have had problems with substance abuse. Depression, seasonal affective disorder and boredom all can trigger an increase in drug and alcohol use during winter months.

The Yéil Jeeyáx-Raven's Way program in Sitka, run by the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), is a nationally accredited residential treatment program for Alaska youth ages 13-18 that has one of the best documented success rates of any youth treatment program in the Indian Health Service system.

Raven's Way combines conventional substance abuse and mental health treatment with adventure-based therapy and Alaska Native cultural activities. The program uses a holistic approach to develop each young person's physical, emotional, mental and spiritual strengths, giving them the tools they need to choose a healthy, substance-free lifestyle.

More than 1,000 students from across the state have been admitted to the Raven's Way program since it opened in 1989.

"With substance abuse and alcohol rates going up in Alaska, it is important to intervene early and offer culturally relevant tools of recovery to our youth," said Kelly Warren, the SEARHC Raven's Way Coordinator. "If our youth learns healthy life skills when they're young, they can be our strong community leaders tomorrow."

Parents, community service providers, health councils, probation officers, schools and others can refer Alaskan youths to the voluntary Raven's Way program. Young people in the program must have a primary diagnosis of substance abuse or dependence, but many students also have co-occurring problems such as depression, hyperactivity or other emotional problems. Raven's Way provides in-depth substance abuse treatment, and also specialized trauma-based services for abuse, neglect, grief and suicide issues.

Students are provided with full physicals, including dental and vision care, and they have onsite access to psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, master's level clinicians and Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital medical staff. Treatment costs are covered by the Indian Health Service, Medicaid, private insurance or grant funding, which makes treatment accessible to families of all income levels.

Treatment is provided in Sitka on nearby Biorka Island, and on backpacking and kayaking expeditions in the Tongass National Forest.

During the 40-day program, students live in a family style environment with 8-10 students. The program includes a comprehensive behavioral health assessment, individual and group counseling, substance abuse education, academics, a wilderness expedition and ropes course, and activities relevant to Alaska Native cultures (85 percent of past students have been Alaska Native). Past Raven's Way students have come from 144 Alaska communities and 82 percent completed the program.

In follow-up interviews a year after finishing, 89 percent of the students reported using less or no alcohol and 86 percent reported using less or no drugs than they had before entering Raven's Way. Past students have reported significant increases in productive activities, such as returning to school or work.

Raven's Way is nationally accredited by the Commission for the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). The Raven's Way academic program is accredited through the Sitka School District. Medical and behavioral health support is available through Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital, which is nationally accredited through The Joint Commission. The Raven's Way staff is licensed and certified.

For more information, contact the SEARHC Raven's Way intake specialist at 966-8716 in Sitka or toll-free in Alaska at 1-800-770-3063, or by e-mail at

Information about Raven's Way can be found on the Web at The next Raven's Way sessions start on Nov. 10 and Jan. 6, 2009.