County officials in New York State announced a new program this week to provide public school coaches and athletic trainers with training tools to combat substance abuse among high school student-athletes.

The East Hampton Star reports that Suffolk County officials announced the program after piloting it in three districts last year. In that time, 60 coaches received training on how to identify student-athletes who may be using liquid nicotine, marijuana, opioids or alcohol.

Coaches in the program receive a 75-minute course on the specific warning signs associated with drug and alcohol abuse, as well as strategies for intervening. Developed by Stony Brook University’s Center for Prevention and Outreach, the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (LICADD), civic advocates, Families In Support of Treatment as well as coaches, athletic directors and athletic trainers, the program will be funded from the County’s operating budget and will be made available to interested districts ahead of the next sports season.

“It is our responsibility to explore every avenue available when it comes to protecting our young ones against substance abuse,” county executive Steve Bellone told the Star. “This new program will equip our school coaches with the knowledge and tools available to recognize the signs and symptoms, and how to best intervene if needed. With a new athletic season fast approaching, there is no better time than now to launch this training countywide.”

County legislator Kara Hahn said that the program will leverage the trust and respect in coach/student-athlete relationships to provide a positive influence on students who may be engaged in substance abuse.

“For many athletes, their relationship with a coach is based on respect and trust and, in many cases, it may be the most influential relationship they have with an adult,” Hahn told the Star. “This unique place in a players’ life provides the coach with an unparalleled opportunity to understand the circumstances the athlete is facing and provide meaningful guidance and support.”

Jason Scott is Online Managing Editor of Athletic Business.