Interventions and the opioid epidemic

The RESET at Asheville-Buncombe Technical College in North Carolina. (Photo: A-B Tech)

The nation’s opioid epidemic has largely skipped college campuses, but that doesn’t mean higher education institutions are ignoring the problem. Considering that community colleges, in particular, are often the bedrock of their wider regions, some are taking direct action to grapple with opioid misuse in their communities.

Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (A-B Tech) in North Carolina confronted the crisis in July 2017 after a student named Stuart Moseley fatally overdosed on heroin in a campus bathroom. A-B Tech has endured several deadly off-campus overdoses as well, along with additional incidents where overdosing students required rapid medical intervention.

Prior to the 2017-18 academic year, A-B Tech gave campus officers cans of naloxone meant to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The college also changed the locks on single-stall restroom doors and trained faculty on the signs of opioid use.

This excerpt comes from the April/May issue of AACC’s Community College Journal.

This fall, A-B Tech opened The RESET, a dedicated safe space for students in recovery from all manner of addictions. Helmed by a staff of certified peer support specialists, The RESET offers treatment information and healthy coping skills for students navigating toward their education goals, says Heather Pack, director of student support services.

“The opioid problem is severe and far-reaching; I don’t know anyone who’s not impacted by their own addiction or someone else’s,” says Pack, who notes that 32 students have accessed The RESET thus far. “People are very thankful to have this space as an option. It communicates that they have a place to belong.”

The college also partners with an area rehab facility to provide addiction resources for its student population. During yearly orientations, the college shows incoming learners a five-minute video from Moseley’s mother, Anne Seaman, to warn them against opioid use.

A-B Tech President Dennis King says these assets highlight the school’s hands-on approach to the wide-ranging crisis. King also wonders if Moseley and others could have lived if interventions like The RESET had already been in place.

“It tears my heart strings to think we could have perhaps saved this young man when there was a need,” King says. “But I’m glad we responded in a proactive way to make sure he didn’t die in vain.”

A community response

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 130 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses. Addiction to opioids — including prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl — is also negatively influencing the country’s social and economic welfare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that prescription opioid misuse alone represents an annual “economic burden” of $78.5 billion, a price tag that comprises healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice involvement.

While Greenfield Community College (GCC) doesn’t have an end all answer to opioid dependence, the Massachusetts college recently created an addiction studies certificate program as part of a community-wide response to drug abuse. Certificate coursework introduces learners to the history of treatment and recovery, offering further study on case management, ethics and rehabilitation.

The program’s practicum portion, meanwhile, prepares attendees to enter the addiction treatment field as licensed alcohol and drug counselors. Upon completing the 29-credit certificate, students can sit for the state licensing exam, or apply the certificate to the college’s associate degree in human services. GCC also has an articulation agreement with Elms College that allows associate degree holders to apply for a bachelor’s in social work at the four-year college. Eight students have earned the certification since its inception.

GCC professor Amy Ford introduced the program in 2016 intending to put a team of skilled addiction practitioners into the world. The certification’s creation coincided with national headlines about opioid medications, which are widely misused as painkillers and believed to lead to dependency on deadly drugs such as heroin and fentanyl. The larger opioid problem is often considered an “equal opportunity” issue, as white people historically abuse prescription painkillers more than minority groups.

GCC’s certificate program draws “wounded healers,” which Ford defines as people in early recovery themselves or those with family members experiencing the rehabilitation process.

Read the full article in CCJournal.

About the Author

Douglas J. Guth
is a writer based in Ohio.