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Loyola examines heroin epidemic


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Last semester, Loyola lost two students to drug-related deaths. One of these was a heroin overdose.

The United States has seen a dramatic increase in heroin-related deaths in the last year, which prompted President Barack Obama to declare Sept. 19-26 National Heroin and Opioid Awareness Week.

The issue has affected New Orleans strongly, as well.

On Monday, Loyola held a viewing of the documentary “Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict,” followed by a panel discussion that included Orleans Parish Coroner Jeffrey Rouse.

At the event, Rouse referred to opioid and heroin use as the “chemical equivalent of Russian Roulette.” He said Orleans Parish has seen 83 deaths by heroin overdose in just the first half of 2016, which is double the total for 2014.

Rouse also said fentanyl-involved deaths in the area–usually from people “cutting” heroin with fentanyl, which is approximately 50 times as powerful as heroin–have increased from single digits the last two years to 29 for the first half of this year.

On Loyola’s campus, Kyra Koman, a freshman in the popular music program, died from an accidental multi-drug overdose and Juliano Mastroianni, international business sophomore, died of a heroin overdose.

In response to the deaths, Student Affairs launched Lift Up Loyola, which was designed to promote the community’s care for one another and raise awareness of Loyola’s mental health and substance
abuse resources.

The University Counseling Center held workshops to address common student mental health issues and increased advertising about the department’s services available to all students. These efforts aimed to increase student awareness of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and substance abuse, and to encourage students to ask
for help.

Under Loyola’s official drug policies, university employees are prohibited from using or distributing drugs on campus or reporting to work in a mentally impaired state. The policies do not address what employees do off campus.

For students, Loyola’s student handbook says the university adheres to federal, state and municipal laws regarding illegal and controlled substances. Consequences for students with drug-related infractions vary.

“In the same way that if you went to court, there are a realm of sanctions and possibilities that could happen to you,” Patricia Murret, associate director of public affairs, said. “There’s no hard and fast answer about what a consequence might be.”

Monwell Frazier, biology and psychology senior, said he has not noticed drug use as a problem on campus. He said the possibility of drug use being a major issue could be due to students’ desire to find an outlet for social stressors in college.

“I think there’s an extreme pressure to fit in,” Frazier said. “It’s easier to assimilate than to walk away.”

Avery Bell, music junior, said his experience differed from Frazier’s.

“Freshman year, it surprised me how many of my classmates didn’t hesitate to try harder drugs,” Bell said. “Seeing friends start doing cocaine and hearing about people doing heroin is troubling.”

Joelle Underwood, Loyola chemistry professor, said she has seen students struggle with drug-related issues firsthand. She said in these situations, she has always referred students to on-campus resources to seek help, or off-campus resources if the students aren’t comfortable with those available here.

She added, however, that in some cases it is not as simple as telling someone to find help.

“There’s a stigma in our society for people who struggle with these diseases,” Underwood said. “That stigma has been a high barrier for some students to get help.”

“When dealing with addiction, you can get to a state mentally where you can’t even take the steps you need to get well,” Underwood added. “For freshmen and sophomores, it’s their first time away from home and they don’t have their normal support network, and their normal support network might be going through those problems themselves.”

Underwood suggested support is key to helping minimize the existence of drug-related issues in any community.

“Mental illness and drug addiction are real diseases,” she said. “We need to talk about it, be very open about it, be accepting of members of our community who are facing these challenges.”

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Loyola examines heroin epidemic