What Is The Community Health Action of Staten Island Doing About It?
By: Julia Salazar
At Manhattanville College in 2008, Jamie Longo was running a routine hockey drill during her practice with the rest of her teammates. It wasn’t until she pivoted on her skates, and nicked the ice that things took a turn for the worst.
With adrenaline running through her body, she only thought someone hit her with the ice puck. A trip to the doctors confirmed it to be a torn MCL and a dislocated kneecap. To manage the pain, she was prescribed Vicodin.
“When I would wake up in the morning, the only way I felt normal was when I had the medication in me,” said Longo. “That was when I knew that there was probably an issue.”
According to the American College Health Association, between 1.4 million and 2.4 million college students have or are currently misusing opioids, while between 400,000 and 600,000 later move on to heroin.
The Narcan Training Event held on March 22nd taught those attending the importance of Narcan and how it can save a life from an overdose. Narcan is a nasal spray used on someone who is suspected of overdosing. It’s not a cure, but a time extender before professional help arrives.
Using drugs and alcohol has become the norm amongst college students whether it be at parties or to deal with their everyday struggles such as homework, work, and their personal lives. A student enrolled at CSI, who requested to remain anonymous, admits to indulging in alcohol due to stress they’ve experienced in their life.
“Because of my overworked lifestyle, it causes me to stress about everything all the time,” they said. “Drinking allows me to let go of the worries for the time being.”
According to Tackling Youth Substance Abuse, 14.2% of Staten Island youth have their first drink before they were thirteen years old, which is about 17,000 children on Staten Island. 7.9% of those between the ages of 18 and 25 have used opioids in the last month, which is the age range of most college students on Staten Island.
The Health Center at CSI conducted surveys over the last five years, asking students about their drug and alcohol use. The most recent survey in 2021 showed that 30% of students used alcohol, 12% participated in binge drinking, which is defined as having four or more drinks in one sitting, and 12% used marijuana.
Substance abuse and mental health almost go hand in hand with each other and according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, almost half of those who have experienced mental illness will also experience a substance use disorder. Janine Scotto works at the Health Center at CSI and agrees that mental health plays a role in substance abuse among college students.
“The two cannot necessarily be separated,” said Scotto. “We do find that students might use it as a way to deal with mental health challenges whether it’s anxiety or depression.”
The traumatic experiences Jamie Longo endured had an impact on her mental health and opioid addiction. She realized that it did not only take the physical pain away from her accident, but the mental pain she was dealing with as well.
After being addicted to opioids for about six years and being sober for one, she was connected to the Community Health Action of Staten Island by her intervention officer and was introduced to the harm reduction services they provided.
CHASI offers syringe exchanges and their Vice President Emilie Tippins stressed that their goal with syringe exchanges is not sobriety, but to reduce the harm and death tolls of those who do use drugs. It offers a safe environment for those who use opioids and grants them the space to decide whether they want to take that step to become sober; if they so choose.
“There’s a lot that goes into it that is still a mystery,” said Longo. “And harm reduction is a great place to start.”