Battling opiate abuse on NJ college campuses
As an epidemic of heroin and painkiller abuse tightens its grip on the Garden State, one fact tossed around regularly is that the addiction does not discriminate — from the suburbs to the city, low-income to wealthy, teens to older adults, the appeal of opioids appears to have no boundaries.
But despite young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 being considered the most at risk for abusing the dangerous substances, we don't hear much about the problem on the campuses of higher education institutions.
Some experts propose those who may be involved heavily with pills or heroin don't generally last long in a college setting, if they make it there at all.
That doesn't mean colleges and universities have been spared, however.
According to Ezra Helfand, executive director of the Wellspring Center for Prevention in East Brunswick, opiate use among college students is "ever present and growing."
And while it's his belief that anti-drug education works best if implemented long before high school, Helfand says most colleges have programs in place designed to raise awareness of the consequences or provide counseling to those already experiencing them.
"Many of these schools go to great efforts to provide information and resources to youth, but unfortunately it's hard for them to fight, especially in the case of freshmen — the fact that they feel freedom all of a sudden ... the whole partying scene, and lastly the fact that many of them suffer through stress and find that they need some sort of a release," Helfand said.
Bob Logan, substance abuse coordinator with Counseling and Psychological Services at Rowan University, has six outreach sessions planned over the next several weeks; his colleague has another five. He'll visit athletic programs and clubs within the university to talk about substance abuse — particularly issues involving alcohol, opioids, marijuana and Adderall.
"We don't see a lot of opiate users actually surfacing because that culture is a culture that really stays underground, but I'm not saying it's not here," Logan said. "I do see students who have that issue."
Many of the students Logan's seen have been mandated to seek treatment because they violated the school's code of conduct. The school is equipped to offer counseling and screening services, and get students into off-campus treatment if necessary.
"No one's out to bust anybody. We just want to make sure you get the help that you need," Logan added. "If someone's not doing well, they can come here and it's a safe and confidential place."
New to the university in 2017 is the availability of recovery housing for students who want to enjoy the on-campus lifestyle but without the pressure to fall back on alcohol or drugs like they had in the past.
State law requires that by 2018, recovery housing be offered at all New Jersey public colleges where more than 25 percent of students live on campus.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.