With the projection for overdose-related deaths in Connecticut expected to reach a total of 1,078 in 2017, an expected 18 percent increase from 2016, according to Susan Birge, the Assistant Vice President and Director of Counseling & Psychological Services, Fairfield University devoted a day to bring awareness to this highly prevalent issue in both the State of Connecticut and the United States as a whole.
Opioid Awareness and Prevention Day was hosted on Tuesday, Nov. 7 all across campus, with several informational booths in places such as the Dolan School of Business and the Lower Level of the Barone Campus Center being used to provide students and the greater University community with the knowledge of opioid overdose, how to seek treatment and know how to call for help, as well as how to administer Narcan, which combats the effects of overdose.
Additionally, there were 917 purple flags placed on the green in the traffic circle, each flag representing one person who overdosed in Connecticut in 2016, as well as purple ribbons being tied around trees on campus.
This day was made possible by a $10,000 grant for opioid awareness initiatives as part of the Statewide Healthy Campus Initiative, launched by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, according to Vice President of Marketing and Communications Jennifer Anderson ‘97, MBA‘02.
Lisa Arnold, the Clinical Director of the Collegiate Recovery Program, stated “there’s two different kinds of info tables that we’re going to have set up; one is for Narcan administration, so students or faculty and staff can come to the table and learn how to administer Narcan, which is a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose.”
She went on further to point out that, “we’re also going to be giving out medlock pouches, which will be used to lock up medications in the event that students are prescribed mood-altering substances and need a safe place to keep them.”
In addition to the informational booths that provided knowledge on the administration of Narcan, Arnold also noted that the other informational booth will refer students to the various resources on campus, resources in the community, as well as knowledge about many mood-altering substances that could affect one’s physical and mental state. Also, information regarding the collegiate recovery program, which is an on-campus program made up of students who are in recovery from substance overdoses, will be provided.
The overall goal of the day, in addition to providing awareness for this massive drug-related problem in our country, was to reduce the stigma of using drugs in favor of simply encouraging people to get help and know the signs of someone who needs help with overdose.
One of the students in attendance at the vigil, Marissa O’Donnell ‘18 said, “I have some relatives that were involved with drugs, so it’s just something that’s important to me.”
O’Donnell went on further, saying, “It’s nice to see that they recognize the opioid epidemic is something that is really widespread across the nation, so it’s nice to have an event like this to acknowledge that.”
Connecticut Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy had been invited to take part in the 6:30 vigil hosted by Campus Ministry in order to provide their perspective on the matter and to show solidarity with the victims of this epidemic, as well as to demonstrate the state of Connecticut’s commitment to fighting this overdose crisis head-on. While they were not in attendance, their presence would have helped raise awareness to this largely prevalent issue on a statewide, as well as a national, scale.
Arnold acknowledged that their presence would have provided “a more broad perspective of the epidemic itself in the sense that this is the worst drug epidemic to have ever hit this country and their support will help to reduce the stigma of using, because we do have politicians who are fighting this as well as people on campus.”
Sophomore Caroline O’Brien, went to the vigil because she felt “the opioid problem is a really big issue and raising awareness for it is really important because it affects so many people.”
Junior Caleb Blagys stated, “I decided to come to this because you never know who has family members or friends who are going through something that they keep to themselves and it’s good to think about those people even if they are not thinking about themselves.”
“I think that because we’re in the midst of the biggest drug epidemic in the country, it [Opioid Awareness & Prevention Day] will reduce the stigma and broaden the understanding that drug addiction is not a moral condition, but it is a disease,” said Arnold about the significance of the day.
She further added that, “It’s a disease that people don’t understand so well because the awareness of it is that you can stop anytime you want, but that is simply not the case in the sense that it is a disease and when people can’t stop they need to seek treatment for it.”