Fairfield University’s Counseling & Psychological Services and the Marion Peckham Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies came together in an effort to raise awareness on the epidemic of opioid addiction plaguing America. The two groups held a screening of the documentary “Generation Found” on March 28 and afterwards held a panel discussing topics like substance abuse and available treatments on campus.
School of Nursing alumna Theresa Conroy, MSN ‘03, a former Connecticut state representative and advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), brought the film to the attention of Counseling & Psychological Services and the nursing department in the fall of 2016. A long-time advocate for the treatment and care of recovering addicts, Conroy believed the film could shed light on the unspoken epidemic of substance abuse in America, particularly opioids.
In Connecticut alone, Conroy stated that, “last year in 2016, there were over 1,000 overdoses on heroin and opioids. This is unacceptable. Something has to be done.”
The documentary “Generation Found” pays special attention to children and teenagers, citing that nine out of 10 addicts become addicted during their early teenage years. The film follows students and faculty at Archway Academy, a “recovery school” where teens recovering from addiction are surrounded only by peers also trying to stay sober while also receiving a high school level education. The film states that young addicts who return to non-recovery schools or enroll in rehabilitation programs designed for adults often start using drugs again.
However, as clinical coordinator of the Collegiate Recovery Program and psychotherapist Lisa Arnold said, the overall message of the documentary is that recovery is in fact possible.
“Fairfield University is unique in that we are the only university in Connecticut that has two different homes for students recovering from drug or alcohol abuse to live in while still staying enrolled in classes,” said Arnold.
She said that Fairfield doesn’t deviate much from national statistics on drug and alcohol abuse. However, the stigma of being an addict still remains.
“Students feel like this isn’t something they should be open about or that they will be judged for it. We want students to be able to feel comfortable seeking and getting the help they need,” said Arnold.
In addition to Arnold and Conroy, Dr. Virginia Kelly, a professor of counselor education, John Hamilton, CEO of Recovery Network of Programs, and two students, Chase and Drew, were also on the panel. Because they are involved in Alcoholics Anonymous and Fairfield’s recovery program, the students were not at liberty to disclose their last names but wanted to share their experiences with students.
Drew, a former heroin addict, introduced himself before sharing with the audience how addiction impacted his life as recently as the night prior to the panel.
“My girlfriend got a call that she lost a friend to heroin. He overdosed,” said Drew. He elaborated that, if it hadn’t been for the recovery program and getting clean, “it could have been me.”
Chase explained that before seeking help for his alcohol abuse, he was known as a heavy drinker who would stay up until 7 a.m.
“I used to wake up, and everything was dark and I’d just be miserable,” he explained.
A senior now, Chase stated that after sobering up and straightening himself out, “I felt like a freshman again. Like I’m seeing everything in color for the first time and just being happy.”
Chase and Drew also explained the dangerous new trend among heroin users in America, of mixing the opioid with another potent drug, such as prescription drugs like Xanax and Fentanyl. The method is to mix the two narcotics in order to achieve a more intense and powerful high.
But there’s a catch.
“They’re similar drugs, but mixing them isn’t just 2 + 2 = 4, it’s 5,” said Drew. “They both release this extra chemical in your brain that your body can’t and really isn’t meant to be able to handle.”
This combination, if not done right, can prove to be fatal. As explained by Arnold, a slight mismeasurement can cause a fatal overdose in the user. According to Hamilton, medical examiners and coroners in Connecticut’s 1,000 plus cases of overdoses in 2016 reported that 40 percent of all deaths involved heroin cut with drugs like Xanax and Fentanyl.
Part of the reason people are so willing to try heroin, let alone mix it with prescription drugs, is because many opioid addicts like Drew and Chase started out on pills with similar effects.
Chase explained, “You start taking downers and eventually your dealer convinces you it’s OK to make the jump to heroin.”
However, they also stressed it’s never too late to seek help, even on a college campus. “Sometimes it’s hard to go to the bar, or the beach, or wherever there is drinking involved, but there are always people there to help you stay sober and stable,” said Chase.
The panel spoke about how Connecticut is nationally and internationally renown as a leader in recovery coaching for addicts, though the state could still do more, says Kelly.
Kelly said, “due to the budgeting difficulties in Connecticut, it’s hard to bring in any funding or policies that provide funding to helping recovering addicts, who are classified as having a mental health problem.”
She added that alternate ways to fund treatment centers must be found, since insurance companies won’t pay for it.
“Really, they aren’t as motivated to help recovering addicts, because if they aren’t around anymore, they don’t have to pay to insure them.”
The event attracted well over 100 people, which included students, faculty, different recovery programs and former addicts.
One man addressed the panel and the two students in recovery and said, “what you’re doing right now, raising awareness for this issue, is doing so much good for every current and future addict in America.”
Another young man who identified himself as Julio took the opportunity to ask the panel where the nearest recovery school in the New York area was.
“I started using at 10. Then I started selling to maintain my habit and just never could bring myself to finish school or go to college,” he explained.