By Rosemarie Naughton
With reports of opioid abuse increasing over the past three years, Frances Cortez Funk, director of health promotion at KU said the university is working to find ways to combat the epidemic.
As part of the effort, Funk is currently undergoing an Opiate Treatment Specialist Certification. This certification will permit Funk to diagnose opioid dependence and provide substance abusers with a complete treatment plan based off their psychological and medical needs.
Phil Salamone, director of operations for Kutztown Area Transport Service, has reported 90 opioid incidents in the Kutztown community between 2015 and 2017, with seven resulting in death. These incidents are caused by prescription painkillers, heroin and other opioids.
Mac Fisher, KU junior, recognizes a problem with opioid use in the Kutztown community. “I see it affect people around me all the time,” Fisher said. “I live with a person who struggles with addiction and he’s been lucky enough to have support from his friends. He admitted himself for help and is now clean.”
Funk explained that introduction of chemicals into the brain at a latent age builds compulsive behavior.
“People ages 14 to 15 who introduce chemicals into their brain before its fully developed places them at higher risk for addiction,” she said. “These individuals never learn coping skills and only learn to numb their emotions when faced with stress or pain. A substance abuser feels trapped by the euphoria they feel from the drug, it is how they trained their brain to cope with problems.”
Opioids trigger a sensor in the body to relieve physical pain, but people are misusing it for mental pain, she added.
“We are always talking about the drug and its negative effects but not the person with compulsive behavior,” said Funk. “Why is it so bad to feel pain? I want to have a non-judgmental conversation with students suffering from a drug dependence about different coping skills and mindfulness.”
In order to prevent this epidemic from spreading, people must communicate more about ways to deal with stress and pain. Some coping methods include physical activity, a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep.
While trying to combat the epidemic, the KU community also implemented Kutztown Strong, a group of prevention specialists, human service professionals and other volunteers who help raise awareness about chemical dependency. Their mission includes a focus on education, awareness and counseling services to help identify and prevent substance abuse.