Opioid crisis and its impact on students during the COVID-19 pandemic

YSU for Recovery is a program offered to students who are struggling with mental or substance abuse. Photo by Jessica Stamp / The Jambar

By Jessica Stamp

Youngstown State University students may encounter many challenges during their college career, and the COVID-19 pandemic has added more mental and physical stress because of social isolation. Turning to drugs and alcohol is one coping mechanism some students might get involved in.

According to the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board statistics, about 500 approximately in Trumbull County from January-October 2021 have died from drug overdoses. 

The YSU police department has not experienced any events related to opioids on campus during the pandemic. 

Shawn Varso, YSU chief of police, said the last opioid incident the department encountered was about four years ago with a non-student who was found overdosed on campus.

“All of our officers are equipped with Narcan in the event we do encounter someone [overdosed from opioids], and the only time we’ve ever used the Narcan is about four years on a non-student who just happened to pull up into one of our parking lots,” Varso said. 

Narcan is a medicine that counteracts the effects of opioids and helps restore breathing. YSU officers carry Narcan in a nasal spray form if needed. 

Students use drugs as an outlet from the workload stresses they are under which can lead to opioid addiction. They are afraid to say anything and get help due to worries about being kicked out of school. 

April Caraway, Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery board executive director, wants to help individuals overcome the stigma that surrounds substance abuse. 

“When they’re college kids, they’re trying to excel, they don’t want their parents to be disappointed in them,” Caraway said. 

Caraway expresses the board’s worry of a possible increase in suicide rates and contemplation because of the pressures. 

“We try to work with the colleges about stigma and make sure kids know where to get help,” Caraway said. 

For students who are struggling with substance abuse, YSU for Recovery can help.  

Mason Edmunds, YSU Meridian Healthcare liaison, said YSU for Recovery offers virtual meetings to help students with feelings of loneliness.

“We’ve tried to really focus a lot of our events around mental health and mental wellness … and giving students ways to really equip [themselves] with the tools and coping strategies to deal with stress and to deal with the coursework as well as to deal with kind of the isolation that’s coming from the pandemic,” Edmunds said. 

The meetings are a resource for students who need a place to be heard while being anonymous and can obtain a referral if they want one. Students who decide to attend the meeting will have the chance to meet in-person. Edmunds is working to set a specific day for the meeting around mid-January. 

When dealing with substance abuse or mental health, Edmunds said, the YSU for Recovery meetings are a safe space for students to go to talk to somebody who understands their struggles and to connect with people who can help. 

YSU for Recovery’s goal is to help students who are struggling with any form of substance abuse. The group can also be a consistent resource for them and let them know there is a place to go to receive help. 

If interested in reaching YSU for Recovery, contact Mason Edmunds by email at [email protected] or call 330-509-5993.