Area universities join the battle against student opioid addiction

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Credit: AP

Everything that impacts America is eventually reflected to some degree in the nation’s colleges and the current opioid addiction epidemic, and Butler County’s largest university is no exception.

Alcohol abuse by students has traditionally been the major challenge at Miami’s main Oxford campus, but officials in recent years are seeing a rise in opioid addiction and are responding by expanding options for students battling opioids.

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Both Miami and the University of Cincinnati require incoming students take an online lesson that covers alcohol and drug use. UC also offers classes on addiction through the Student Wellness Center, an online therapy assistance program, and support groups through the counseling and psychological services.

In Butler County, opioid abuse among teens in college and high school is a relatively small percentage of the overall problem, according to local law enforcement.

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But among adults in the county it’s killing in historic numbers.

The drug — either in the form of a prescription pill or brown liquid injected by a needle — has killed thousands of people across the country, and nearly 800 in Butler County from 2012 through July 2018. The number of people becoming hooked on the drug has skyrocketed, and state and federal lawmakers have made more and more money available to local communities to address the issue.

Unintentional overdose deaths in the state have increased by nearly 33 percent from 2015 to 2016 as more than 4,000 Ohioans died in 2016. Most of those deaths were because of powerful opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil, which are now commonly found in heroin.

At Miami, Janae Arno worked on the alcohol coordinating committee for the Office of Student Wellness.

Two years ago, the committee had found no resources in Oxford that were meant for students struggling with substance abuse.

The university asked The Haven at College, a recovery center business aimed at helping college students recover without dropping out, to set up a location in Oxford and Arno began working there as a student care manager.

“No student should have to choose between their education and their recovery,” Arno said. “We’re here to help them, whatever level of help they need.”

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In August the Haven established a recovery center at the Miami Preserve apartments in Oxford where students can live while receiving treatment. Miami is one of seven universities in the country with a Haven recovery center and one of three with an outpatient center.

“Miami has become one of the leaders in publicly recognizing this problem and offering support to students that need it,” said George Stoddard, the University Account Director for the Haven at College.

Arno said that opioids were not one of the biggest substances that students coming through the Haven suffered from- alcohol and prescription drugs are more prevalent issues at Miami.

“During the academic year, Miami’s student counseling services provides assessment, treatment and referral services for any student with opioid concerns,” Miami University spokesman Claire Wagner said.

Miami’s Office of Student Welfare offers a motto of “secure, monitor and dispose” for prescription opioids and painkillers. The office encourages students to keep their medication in a safe location, keep track of the number of pills they have, and throw them out in special bags provided by the office.

The Miami University police department has a box at their office on Oxford-Trenton Road where students can anonymously dispose of their prescription opioids. MUPD officers also carry Naloxone, also known as Narcan, to help prevent overdoses.

“Naloxone education and training sessions have taken place in the Oxford community for families, caregivers, and concerned citizens so that they know how to safely administer it to someone who needs it. Miami students are welcome to attend these trainings in the community,” Wagner said.

Many of the projects at Miami dealing with the opioid crisis are partnerships with outside groups. The school partners with the Coalition for a Healthy Community Oxford for a medication take-back and awareness day in October. One high-level statistics class worked with the Butler County Coroner’s office to create visualizations about the opioid overdose rates in the county.

Bri Clements, a 21-year old student, went on to design an app for the coroner’s office as an independent study project. Clements’ app displays data about drug overdose deaths in Butler County since 2013, including maps of overdose locations and the demographics details of the victims.

“I think it’s a really important problem that needs to be addressed, especially for kids my age,” Clements said.

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