Growing up, I remember hearing our political pundits at in favor of expanding “War on Drugs” polices. I also can’t fail to mention the phrase “Drug. Abuse. Resistance. Education.” In 6th grade, I along with my buddies, Billy and Kevin, wrote a “D.A.R.E” rap song and performed it in front of our entire school. Let’s just say medicine is a stronger suit of mine. Despite these program’s well-meaning intentions, I have witnessed countless patients, friends and family members suffer from substance abuse and addiction.
Substance abuse disorder, as defined by Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMV), is the excessive and recurrent use of a drug without a medical justification. Addiction is a disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite its harmful social, financial and health consequences. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey, 3.8 million people misused prescription pain relievers in 2015 (1.4 % of US population > 12 years old). Rates of illicit drug use are highest among those aged 18-25. Despite these sobering statistics, there has been an actual long-term decline in illicit drug use. The Monitoring the Future (MTF) annual survey conducted by University of Michigan and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2017 revealed a continued long-term decline or at least leveling off in use of marijuana, alcohol, tobacco, and prescription/over-the-counter medications.
Yet, despite the downtrend substance abuse and addiction continues to affect millions of lives. It knows no boundaries and does not discriminate against skin color, religion, educational level, or socioeconomic class. College students are especially not immune to this unforgiving epidemic. Similar to the rest of the general population, college students are often in denial or have undiagnosed or untreated mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), mood disorder, or physical and sexual abuse. Students are at risk newfound freedom, minimal supervision, and increased pressure of performing well in classes, already existing substance abuse problem.
Black Greek Lettered Organization’s (BLGO) can play a very important role in combatting this pervasive disorder. Here are 6 suggestions on how your organization can get more involved on campus:
1) Know what to look for.
Signs and symptoms of substance abuse and addiction can differ based on the substance used, however here are some signs and symptoms that may be present if your friend or relative is abusing drugs or alcohol.
- Drastic changes in how they’re performing in school.
- Withdrawing for usual activities and being very secretive.
- Increased irritability. Appearing disheveled and unkempt.
- Drastic changes in sleeping patterns
2) Learn about your campus services.
- Contact your school health office to learn more about services offered at your institution. Find out how your organization could help them raise awareness around campus.
3) Throw an interactive informational discussion.
- Get mental health/behavioral health specialists to speak at your event.
- Contact your school health office and see if they can provide resources for people to reach out for help.
- Contact your local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) chapter to inquire about what services they offer. You can ask them if they know of any speakers that would be interested in serving on a panel.
4) Substance Abuse and Addiction Aware Week
- Collaborate with other organizations on your campus and brainstorm about activities that you can do to raise campus awareness.
- Make it fun. We do this with diabetes, sickle cell, why not this very important issue? But be mindful of the type activities you put together. Ensure that they not demeaning or disrespectful.
5) Show a film
- Images and testimonies are powerful and can have a lasting impact. Show portions of a documentary, movie, or even play a podcast. Following the showing/listening you can have an open and honest dialogue about what happened.
- Raise funds to donate to a local or national outpatient/inpatient addiction treatment programs. Collect money, clothes, books, board games, etc. These services can be overcrowded, have long waiting list, expensive, or difficult to find. Do research prior to donating to any organization. You want to make sure that your financial contributions will be used efficiently.
About the Author: Dr. David Pierre is a first generation Haitian-American Family Medicine physician, educator, inspirational speaker, blogger, wealth building and health policy enthusiast, who also serves in the Air National Guard. He was initiated to Iota Phi Theta Fraternity at Rutgers University in Spring 2004.