Everyone hears about substance abuse, but not everyone faces the true facts of the matter. In recent years, opioid addiction has destroyed lives with no mercy. Unfortunately, there are more cases in this state than more people can fathom.
One group on campus, however, recognizes the issue. This semester, the WGSS 2255 class focused their activism work on substance abuse, specifically opioid addiction. According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2017 study, Connecticut’s rate of opioid related overdoses of 27.7 people per 100,000 was twice as high as the national rate. The students in the class decided to combat this and created the Connecticut Partnership Against Drugs (C-PAD), focusing on resources for prevention. Last night’s panel was just a small taste of the several events they have hosted.
The class invited three people to speak: Sandy Valentine, Stephen Feathers and Mike Augustine.
Valentine leads the University of Connecticut’s Recovery Community. She has personal experience with long term recovery from alcoholism, driving her passion to help those around her. Valentine now serves as a certified CCAR Recovery Coach Academy facilitator and is working on getting certified as a Recovery Coach Professional.
Feathers is an outreach worker for Perception Programs Inc, working to bring recovery with co-occurring substance use and mental health problems. Feathers also provides Narcan training and distribution, runs the Windham Syringe Exchange, encouraging safe use for those who partake and guiding them through the journey of recovery.
Augustine is a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed alcohol and drug counselor. He also served as the department head of MATS Services for Recovery Network of Programs for 10 years and counting, giving him 18 years of experience in the field.
The panel discussed basics of opioid abuse but, because of the diversity in their backgrounds, was able to take the discussion in many directions.
Since the main focus of C-PAD is prevention and recovery, the panel spent some time talking about signs of opioid abuse. Common signs include weight loss, nodding out, pinpoint pupils and isolation. Augustine used the idea of isolation to talk about the stigma around the whole issue of opioid addiction.
“It’s all about stigma,” Augustine began. He then explained the many layers of stigma involved. The first layer, of course, is substance abuse in general. Beneath that comes the stigma of the drug being abused. Finally, there is a layer of stigma surrounding the idea of injection. Augustine explained how injecting opioids is looked down upon more than substance abuse in general. He explained how this creates a feedback of isolation that drives the victim into a deeper hole of addiction.
When the panel was asked about how they are able to see addiction in a victim, Valentine had interesting insight.
“Everyone has a different level of bottom,” she said. She discussed how different situations, different identities, etc. play into the addiction. She concluded by saying the problem becomes an addiction when the victim’s life becomes unmanageable.
Another point that was discussed was how addiction itself is the driving force of addiction. Sometimes, when a victim is addicted and recognize their problem, they do not quit. It is not necessarily because they do not want to, it is the fear of withdrawal, the pain of leaving their dependency on a substance.
Of course, there are many other conditions and situations that get in the way of recovery, one of those being mental health, which was also a big topic for the night. The panel all agreed that undiagnosed, untreated mental issues and opioids prescribed for pain management bring about the deepest holes for victims. This is where co-occurring treatment, or treating issues simultaneously, is one of the keys to recovery for victims.
“Recovery brings a set of tools to avoid slippery places,” Valentine said, summing up the message of prevention from the panel and C-PAD as a whole.
If you know someone that needs resources and guidance, contact the UConn Recovery Program, located on Storrs Road next to East Campus, for housing, safe/sober spaces and more.
Armana Islam is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.