YSU Largely Unaffected by Opioid Crisis

By Rachel Gobep

While the opioid crisis is still apparent in the Mahoning Valley, this trend is not seen on the campus of Youngstown State University.

The university has had six drug law arrests from 2015 to 2017 and 29 drug law referrals, according to YSU Crime Statistics for 2017, 2016 and 2015. YSU Police Chief Shawn Varso said none of these arrests or referrals have involved opioids.

Varso said he cannot recall the last time a student was arrested at YSU associated with opioids, but there was incident at the university regarding a non-student in 2016.

“We had a visitor in the lot near the Courtyard Apartments that had [overdosed] … The gentlemen still had the needle in his arm when our officers got on the scene. They gave him Narcan, they were able to revive him,” he said.

Varso said opioid use is not a problem on campus as it is in the surrounding counties, but just because the university police do not see it, that doesn’t mean opioids are not used at YSU.

“I’m not naive to think that an [overdose] is not going to happen. With the usage that we have in our area, it’s just a matter of time before we get somebody,” Varso said. “My hope is that we get to them in time … and we can get them help.”

According to the Ohio Department of Health, an eight-year low has been reached in unintentional prescription opioid-related overdose deaths in Ohio, and there has been a four-year low in heroin-related overdose deaths.

The number of unintentional drug overdose deaths rose from 83 in 2016 to 112 in Mahoning County in 2017 due to fentanyl use.

“Illegally produced fentanyl, which is being mixed and used with other street drugs, such as cocaine, heroin and psychostimulants such as methamphetamine, is now driving up Ohio’s and the Mahoning Valley’s unintentional overdose deaths,” ODH officials said, according to an Oct. 1 report by The Vindicator.

Ryan McNicholas, the coordinator of the Alcohol and Drug Compliance Report for YSU and the assistant director for marketing, fitness and wellness programs, said he believes that students are not using opioids because they are highly educated.

“[Students] have the sense of knowing the dangers of opioids or drug usage, so they tend to steer away from it. They also see the harm that has been within their networking or support systems … family, friends who have been addicted. They have seen the outcome of that and obviously do not want to go down that road,” he said.

McNicholas also said there have also been many campaigns regarding the use of opioids and drugs in general, and parents are beginning to have conversations with their children at a younger age.

He said that because of where the university is located, he believes the absence of an opioid issue on campus is a positive sign.

“Drugs may be more prevalent on the outskirts of campus or surrounding areas. I feel that our students do a good job of prioritizing what’s important in their lives and that not being one of them,” McNicholas said.

Ann Jaronski, the director of Student Counseling Services at YSU, echoed Varso’s comments and said she believes that some YSU students do use and abuse opioids, but they do not tend to seek counseling services from the counselors on campus.

Jaronski and Ann Lally, assistant director of Student Counseling Services, are not addiction specialists, but generalists.

“[We] work with students who have a wide variety of concerns … When we see a student, who has a concern that is outside of our expertise, we refer that student to an expert. In the case of major substance abuse and addiction, we refer to addiction professionals in the community,” Jaronski said.  

She said she believes there are multiple reasons why a person may use or abuse mind-altering substances.

“Oftentimes, someone tries a substance just to experiment, likes the effects, tries it again and then begins to abuse that substance because they like the way it makes them feel or not feel,” Jaronski said. “Some people get addicted and cannot stop on their own.”

She provided advice for anyone in the YSU community who may be considering turning to opioids or other substances.

“I would suggest starting with learning good self-care, not just self-indulgence, the stuff we do that makes us ‘feel better,’ strategies to deal with stress and mental health issues,” she said. “If someone is struggling with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse or other mental health issues, I would suggest seeking professional counseling. The counseling process will help them identify what the issues are and what the options are for addressing those issues.”

According to a 2016 study by the University of Michigan in 2016, 7 percent of 870 respondents said they had misused opioid painkillers, and 4 percent had done so in the previous year.

Additionally, Lisa Laitman, the director of the Alcohol & Other Drug Assistance Program at Rutgers University, said up to 30 percent of college students had substance abuse disorders in 2017.

A New York Times report found that opioid-related insurance claims from college-age patients at Blue Cross Blue Shield nearly doubled between 2010 and 2017.

Graphic by Lydia Tarleton/The Jambar

When it comes to the use or possession of opioids and discipline on campus, students will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct.

Eddie Howard, vice president of student affairs, said a student would most likely be charged with possession and endangering behavior if caught with opioids, but every student conduct case is handled differently based on the information presented.

“Some situations require us to take immediate action … In other situations, we might not take such an extreme measure,” Howard said. “We may actually provide a student with an alternative sanction either through a student conduct conference or we might end up allowing a student to finish their coursework, but schedule their hearing at a later date.”

He said in all situations, information is presented to a student after the initial investigation to tell them what they are charged with based on the Student Code of Conduct. The student then has the opportunity to make an adequate defense for the charges.

If an incident occurs off campus, Howard said the university and the Office of Student Conduct have the power to intervene.

Read next week’s Jambar for strategies and educational programs used at the university, including the collaboration between YSU and the Andrew’s Student Recreation & Wellness Center to create a Drug & Alcohol Prevention Program.