By Molly O’Shea
Photo Credit - Molly O’Shea / ASP
Substance Abuse Town Hall Meeting at UAlbany Campus Center Ballroom
The University at Albany Counseling Center in an effort to combat substance abuse, hosted students, faculty, and community members for a town hall meeting in the Campus Center ballroom on Tuesday, October 1, where prominent panelists including congressmen and law enforcement officials gave their expertise on underage drinking and drug use.
Congressman Paul Tonko informed about 100 audience members that more than 21 million Americans are fighting addiction in the United States.
“There is no singular face of addiction. It affects the wealthy, the poor, the young and the old,” Tonko said.
And nowhere is this issue more prevalent than on college campuses.
A study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, showed that four in 10 college students reported binge drinking, and one of 10 reported heavy drinking, leading to over 88,000 deaths per year due to alcohol on college campuses.
Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins spoke about the experience from the law enforcement side of substance abuse. More so than ever, officers are finding that more crimes are being related back to substance abuse. People are most likely under the influence while committing these crimes, Chief Hawkins said.
“I had a meeting this morning with my executive staff,” said Hawkins. “We talked about the prime issues we are having in the community and discussed ways to deal with the stuff we are seeing and how we can address the underlying issues that are driving the crime we are seeing,” Hawkins said.
Chief Hawkins also shared that 15% of robberies, 37% of sexual assault, 27% aggravated assaults, 40% child abusers and 66% of individuals who are perpetrators of domestic violence all have some link to alcohol use.
“We aren’t going with the 1980’s mentality of arresting our way out like we used to,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig D. Apple, Sr. “We thought that was how to get people off the streets, but all it did was fill up our prisons up with people who didn't need to be there.”
The Albany County Sheriff’s Office has started programs within middle and high schools around the area that takes students on correction buses with painted yellow footprints that go down the line of all the gateway drugs; marijuana, alcohol and tobacco.
“A lot of people will say, ‘Marijuana isn’t a gateway drug,” Sheriff Apple said. “But, we have these 16, 17, and 18-year-olds that said the same thing, and are now in our jails, come speak to these students.”
Albany County Executive Danial McCoy posed the question to the audience: “Have you ever sprained your wrist or your ankle?” As the crowd nodded back in agreeance, Exec. McCoy shared the statistic that 1 in 5 of those people get addicted to the pain medications prescribed for that injury, eventually adding to 72,000 opioid deaths per year.
Starting college is a new experience. Students are surrounded by new people and new surroundings. If unable to adjust properly, they can fall into peer pressure from other students.
“You’re exposed to a lot of new things,” said Austin Ostro, President of SUNY Student Assembly. “Among those things, at any college, is alcohol and, in some cases, drugs.”
The majority of college students do not wait until they are 21 to take their first sip of alcohol, according to another study done by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. By age 18, 60% of students have had their first drink, and the percentage increases once they go to college.
“I probably shouldn’t be saying this with the Sheriff sitting right next to me,” Ostro said. “But, I’m 22 and my first drink socially was more than a year ago.”
OASAS, Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, is a prevention, treatment, and recovery center to help the lives of people living within New York State.
To date, 234,000 people, or 1.2% of New York’s population, are registered into the OASAS treatment system. They work on high school and college campuses as well to assist students in maintaining their rehabilitation while being surrounded by the temptations campuses are overloaded with.
“We’re also working with communities,” said Patricia Zuber-Wilson, appointed OASAS Director of Government Affairs. “We need to have everyone come together to address these issues, especially as it relates to prevention.”
UAlbany’s President Havidán Rodríguez was proud to announce UAlbany’s improvement of substance abuse over the last 15 years.
“We have been implementing a Comprehensive Prevention Program to fight high risk drinking, drug use and mental health issues,” President Rodríguez said. “I am happy to report that we are seeing significant reductions in alcohol use and mental health related risks indicators.”