JSU Combats National Opioid Crisis
The reality of opioid addiction and opioid-related deaths has reached epidemic levels, even in Calhoun County and on the campus of JSU.
“It’s here with a vengeance,” said Len McCauley, a counselor for JSU Counseling Services. “Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear about someone I know, or someone that one of my students knows, who has died because of opioids.”
In an effort to spread information about the country’s opioid crisis, McCauley and Julie Nix, director of Counseling Services, have organized an Opioid Roundtable on March 5, 6-8 p.m., at the Oxford Civic Center. The free event will be moderated by McCauley and Dr. Tim King, vice president of student affairs, with Calhoun County coroner Pat Brown, local pediatrician Dr. Angela Martin and other guests serving as panelists.
The roundtable is open to everyone because that’s whose lives are being affected by opioid addiction – anyone and everyone.
“What I’d love to see is basically John Q. Public in the audience,” McCauley said. “People who are simply interested in hearing more about this topic. And of course, there will be others – people who have been affected by addiction, people who’ve lost loved ones, those who have loved ones who are addicted, or those who are in recovery themselves.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines opioids as a class of drugs used to reduce pain. Prescription opioids can be prescribed by doctors to treat moderate to severe pain, but can also have serious risks and side effects.
Common types of opioids are oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine, and methadone. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever that’s many times more powerful than other opioids and is approved for treating severe pain, typically advanced cancer. However, illegally made and distributed fentanyl has been on the rise in several states. Heroin is an illegal opioid, and its use has increased across the US among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels.
According to the CDC, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids – including prescription opioids and illegal opioids like heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl – was six times higher in 2017 than in 1999. On average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse, there were 343 opioid-related overdose deaths in Alabama in 2016. That is a rate of 7.5 deaths per 100,000 persons, nearly half the national rate of 13.3 deaths per 100,000 persons. The number of deaths related to opioids included 157 related to synthetic opioids (mainly fentanyl), 126 attributed to heroin, and 124 related to prescription opioids.
The war against opioids must be fought across numerous fronts.
“First, we have to destigmatize addiction,” McCauley said. “An addict isn’t always the person on the street corner. It can be your neighbor or your friend. Just look around. The addicts are everywhere. If we can destigmatize addiction, then people will be more willing to go into treatment. Then, we have to find money for treatment.”
JSU provides support for students living with addiction. McCauley coordinates JSU’s New Pathways program, which helps students who have violated the university’s student code of conduct by committing a drug or alcohol related offense. The university also sponsors a Collegiate Recovery Community for recovering addicts who are working to change their lives through the pursuit of a college education. A Narcotics Anonymous group, Stepping Up, meets in Counseling Services on Fridays, at 6 p.m., in Daugette Hall, Room 138.
The goal of these programs is to help JSU students dealing with addiction to get their lives on a healthy and productive path, to help recovering addicts pursue an education, and make it possible for both these groups to stay clean in college.
“It doesn’t serve the community to simply lock up addicts,” said McCauley. “We can help them in a more humane fashion to get them treatment and help them put their lives back together.”