By Sarah Frazer || Staff Writer
A panel discussion on drug addiction took place on Wednesday in the Alumni Sports and Fitness Center (ASFC) in honor of Red Ribbon Week to discuss drug abuse and contemplate potential solutions. The panel consisted of six speakers, including Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman, Lancaster County Judge/F&M Professor of Drug Courts David Ashworth, Medical Director of EMS at Lancaster General Health/Medical Director of Lancaster County Police and Special Emergency Response Team Dr. Michael Reihart, Director of Programs at the RASE project Shawn McNichol, a current college student in recovery, and an F&M graduate.
Drug addiction, and specifically the opioid epidemic, is a pressing issue facing our country. Getting hooked on drugs is a process that often starts in college, so it is essential for F&M, as a college community, to provide information and spread awareness about drug addiction.
The panel was comprised of people who have expert knowledge on drug addiction, whether through first hand experience of coping with addiction or through clinical research and experience combatting addiction in communities. Each member of the panel was asked a number of questions, and audience members were given the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the panel. First, the panel described the process of becoming addicted: drugs are stimulants that release hormones, like dopamine, into the body. These hormones are a source of pleasure. Moreover, the physiological “pathway to pleasure,” so to speak, can be rewritten in humans, which can lead to long term addiction. An addicted brain, the panel said, is a diseased one. It is important to note that even using drugs once, can trigger a slippery slope whereby one starts the addiction process.
Three of the panelists had dealt with drug addiction themselves, including one alumnus. They described how and why they, and why so many other people, became addicted to drugs. For a lot of addicts, drug use begins by being exposed to drugs by friends and continues by wanting to live in that altered state of mind as much as possible. The panelists discussed how alcohol abuse can often lead to a later abuse of more serious drugs, such as heroin. One panelist, who partied frequently as a teenager, began drinking when she was fifteen; pretty soon, she was drinking daily. By the time she was seventeen, she had tried heroin, and ended up dropping out of highschool. She explained how she lost everything to addiction: her children, her car, her dignity, and her self-respect. Now, she works at McDonald’s, making minimum wage because no one would hire her elsewhere.
Some addicts are able to attend to their day-to-day responsibilities and use that to justify their drug use and deny their need to get any help. However, as one of the panelists explained, “my substances were becoming more and more important to me.” Some people get addicted to their own prescription pills, medications that are meant to be helpful but when abused, are detrimental. An F&M graduate experienced this exact situation: she had to move out of her home and could not see her children. Soon enough, she was living in a shelter. The severity of her addiction to prescription medication, and her willingness to do anything to get them, led to later criminal convictions for theft. In her words, “the most devastating thing is I broke hearts; I broke my family’s hearts.”
Luckily, all the panelists were able to overcome their addictions. The alumnus, for instance, was able to rebuild some of her relationships, and is now involved in Drug Court. Audience members learned that once someone is addicted the recovery process is no walk in the park. Everyday life can be difficult while one is in the process of becoming sober. One panelist said she had gone to several treatment centers for alcoholism and was repeatedly unsuccessful in overcoming her addiction because she would persuade herself that drinking again was something she could handle.
Drug addiction is a deadly illness that affects millions of Americans. However, drug addiction is possible to overcome, so it is of paramount importance that we act to prevent future drug addiction and help those currently suffering with addiction in every way we can.
Sophomore Sarah Frazer is a staff writer. Her email is email@example.com.