It all starts with messing around with a group of friends.
“I started off just experimenting with peers,” says Jessica Goins, a recovering drug addict. “And it just progressed before I even knew.”
She adds that once someone has dabbled with drugs, it is hard to regain focus on a life outside of drugs.
“Sometimes you can maintain for a little while, but it always catches up with you and it just becomes your main focus in life,” Goins says. “So everything else kinda falls to the wayside.”
After taking a college class in prison, Goins decided to turn her life around by taking classes at MCCC.
Goins is not the only MCCC student struggling with drugs.
Experts agree the national opioid war extends into every corner of the country, including Monroe County and the college campus.
Yet MCCC security officers don’t carry Narcan, a drug that has saved thousands of overdose victims across the country, and college officials seem to have done little to join the community war against opioid addiction.
When asked what they would do if a student came to them with a drug problem, different college officials give various answers, some that are conflicting.
The only thing they mostly agree on is that they would send the student elsewhere for help.
Does the drug crisis affect MCCC?
Lynn Breeding, a Monroe-area social worker, says it’s naive to think some MCCC students aren’t struggling with drug addiction.
“Anyone that believes that it doesn’t affect MCCC is operating behind a wall, because doing what I do and knowing my clients, they go to school,” Breeding says. “They are normal. They have everything that someone that does not have an active addiction has.”
Michael Roehrig, Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney for Monroe County, says the drug problem does not target a specific demographic.
“The opioid crisis affects everybody,” he says. “It’s not a certain socio economic or geographic area. It affects everyone across the board.”
Michigan State Police Trooper Donald Stewart agrees that the drug crisis affects everyone.
“Sure it does,” he says. “I think it affects everybody, absolutely.”
Paula Whitman, Executive Director of Paula’s House, a home for woman trying to recover from addictions, says marijuana also is a factor.
“Especially with legalized weed,” Whitman says. “People think its ok to go to school and they are high no matter how you look at it.”
She adds that women in her house always want to go to school when they sober up, some ending up at MCCC.
“Many of the women that have been here have been in college and had to drop out because they weren’t up with their classes or the world or whatever,” Whitman says. “So when they get here, and they get clean, that’s the first thing they want to do.”
Staff at MCCC do not appear to be as aware of the drug crisis as the outsiders looking in.
President Kojo Quartey says he is unaware of a drug crisis on campus.
“Yes it is a major problem in the community, but is it a major problem here on our campus?
“We have not detected that,” he says. “Are students coming on campus to use drugs? We haven’t found that that’s the case.”
Kim Lindquist, Dean of Health Sciences and Director of Nursing, agrees with Quartey, saying that the drug problem affects everyone, but she is not sure how much it directly affects the college.
“I think there is an addiction problem in the community,” she says. “How specific it is to the community college, I’m not for certain.”
“I have not seen direct evidence of it, but I do know that the addiction epidemic really bypasses any type of profile boundaries. It affects all socioeconomic levels.”
She says that she has not personally dealt with students who are on drugs.
“We haven’t had any student issues, to my knowledge, of someone struggling here on campus or being under the influence on campus.”
Counselor Jill Denko, however, says she knows of at least one incident on campus.
“At one point a student I know actually was in one of the restrooms, I’m not sure what kind of drugs they were using, but they were actually caught in the act. So I know it does happen.”
Should Narcan be on campus?
Narcan, the trademarked name for naloxone, is a drug administered to addicts who have overdosed, to try and reverse the life threatening effects of opioids.
The National Association of Addiction Medicine estimates 20,000 lives were saved in 2014 by administration of Narcan.
Breeding supports the idea of Narcan being carried by security officers at MCCC.
“MCCC should definitely carry Narcan. It’s not just students anymore. Addiction is not age specific anymore. I think everybody should have access to Narcan. Every student and staff should be trained and have knowledge of how to use it,” Breeding says.
She emphasizes Narcan should be widely available to aid in the survival of addicts who overdose.
“I very much support Narcan. Everyone has the right to survive and if it takes Narcan 20 times to get that person into recovery then it takes Narcan 20 times. Eventually, they will get it,” Breeding says.
Stewart says he thinks Narcan should be carried at the college because addiction is so universal today.
“This issue is so prevalent, and it’s so pervasive, and it’s so inclusive that absolutely without a doubt there should be Narcan available out there,” Stewart said.
Lieutenant John Wall, administrative captain with Monroe City Police, says he thinks MCCC security officers should be trained to carry Narcan.
“Many people use online instructional videos that show you how to do it – it really is so simple,” Wall says.
Bill Myers, MCCC’s Security Supervisor says there is currently no Narcan available on campus, but adds that he would be open to the idea of carrying it.
“Narcan is not available to us right at the time. We don’t have it on campus,” Myers says.
Quartey says he agrees that a limited number of people should carry Narcan on campus.
“Not every professor should have it in the classroom, because it hasn’t risen to that level. The dean’s offices should all have it,” Quartey said.
Lindquist also thinks having access to Narcan is a good idea.
“With appropriate training for the faculty and staff, there is a benefit to having Narcan on campus,” Lindquist says. “Again though reminding myself that we haven’t seen incidents here on campus.”
Overdose on campus
Wall says using Narcan does not replace calling 911 during an overdose.
“If somebody on campus sees somebody having what they believe to be a drug overdose, they should immediately call 911,” Wall says. “Unless they have the training expertise needed to mitigate the problem, they’re gonna have to call upon medical services whether that be an ambulance or the police showing up.”
Quartey says that campus security would be the first to respond to an overdose on campus.
“I think security would be the one to approach them. Right down the road we have emergency services, so we would probably call them,” Quartey says.
Lindquist said she would also call 911 to get the patient medical help.
“Obviously, our resources here on campus are limited so if somebody was overdosing acutely, I would contact 911 and get them emergency medical treatment,” Lindquist says.
“My background is an emergency nurse, so I have a lot of experience dealing with patients who have overdosed.”
Myers said after responding they would call EMTs to report to the scene.
“We would have to call the EMTS, thankfully so far we have not had one of those incidents,” Myers says.
Where should we send students?
Breeding says the best thing MCCC could do is build connections with the many community groups that provide services for people with drug problems.
“I think that there should definitely be an advocacy group so that students have a place to go to,” she says.
“They should be able to have a referral resource, there should be someone on campus able to advocate for somebody in addiction. It would be really nice to see MCCC connected to an agency like Community Mental Health Partnership of Southeast Michigan.”
Stewart says there are many places the college can send students who are looking for help.
“You can send them to the hospital. You can send them to us, we can get them the help, any of your local law enforcement agencies,” he says. “They need to reach out to someone.”
There are several different groups in the community who support addicts, such as the Monroe Substance Abuse Coalition.
“So there is a myriad of places to help,” Stewart says.
Quartey says that MCCC’s role is to send students coming for help to a specialist.
“If someone came for help with addiction, I want to send them to individuals who are experts in the field,” Quartey says.
He adds that one place students can go for help on campus is the Learning Assistance Lab.
“We have not advertised it, but students who have those challenges can go to our LAL and they will direct you, or they can go to one of our counselors on campus,” Quartey says.
Kris Gerlach says that the LAL would be willing to provide counseling in an emergency state, but it is not their job to counsel students struggling with addiction.
“If it was a crisis situation we would definitely meet with them and talk with them and provide on the spot counselling, but then we would refer them on for rehab counseling outside because we don’t do regular ongoing counseling here,” Gerlach says.
Jill Denko counselor at MCCC says that she would be willing to speak to a student in emergency, but would refer them to another agency for long term care.
“We would refer them to an outside agency. We’ve been pretty fortunate here. We’ve had very few students coming to us with addiction issues. I’m sure that it happens on campus. I can’t be naive to think that we don’t have a drug situation here on campus. However we really haven’t had to deal with a lot of it in our offices here.”
Lindquist mentions that she is willing to aid students, and was trained to send students to administration for help.
“Yes I would offer support and assistance. We have been directed here on campus that some of our counselors in the administration area might be able to assist as well with these types of issues,” Lindquist said.
Monroe County community feels that they are doing everything they can to stop the drug crisis in Monroe County, but MCCC does not seem to be following in their footsteps.
Is Monroe doing enough?
Stewart says that there is no perfect way to fix the drug problem.
“There’s no end-all be-all fix, because unless the person is ready, they aren’t ready,” he says.
Michigan State Police Trooper Tressa Duffin points to a state police program that allows addicts to turn themselves in when they are ready to become sober.
“The State police has an angel program where the person can turn themselves in and say ‘hey I need help,’” she says. “If they are accepted, an angel will come in and take them to a treatment program.”
Quartey says he thinks MCCC should be more open to the idea of publicly talking about the drug addiction in our community.
“I think we should talk about drug addiction,” Quartey says. “I don’t think we talk about it enough. It’s a major problem in our community and there is a possibility that some of our students may encounter some of these challenges.”
He says he wishes MCCC had a class that talked about drugs and their effects.
“If I had my way, we would have a course for all of our students where we talk about the negative effect,” Quartey says.
Lindquist says she thinks the most critical thing is to encourage students so they are willing to open up.
“What’s important is that the student feels supported, and that they can come and talk to those all of us that work for Monroe County Community College,” she says.
Myers says his job is to monitor the campus to make certain the students and staff are safe.
“Anything that endangers any of our students or our staff is what we are here for,” Myers says. “We will evaluate and try to make the right choices to get the help for them.”
Lindquist says MCCC should direct students to the services that are found in the community.
“I don’t think the expectation is the college provides the services that they need,” she says.
The war on drugs
Breeding says we are losing the war on drugs.
“Were losing it, we are not reaching the kids at a young enough age,” Breeding says. “Everyone is focused on alcohol and weed.”
Wall says that they are finding people who have overdosed everywhere.
“We do have people in vehicles, we do find people on the sidewalks, but most of the time it’s within somebody’s home,” he says.
In the last five years ending in December of 2017, there were 214 drug-related deaths reported to the medical examiner in Monroe County, according to statistics from the Monroe County Health Department.
Stewart says it is going to have to be the individual who helps make the change in the community.
“Are we gonna beat it from the outside? No, it’s gonna come down to the individual, the individual has to put his or her foot down for themselves,” Stewart says.
Duffin says Monroe has been a leader in figuring out ways to deal with drug addiction.
“Monroe County has been kind of a frontrunner in how to deal with this,” she says.
Wall says the courts have also been stepping up by creating more barriers for the dealers to get away with the crime.
“The courts have been very proactive in making it more difficult for drug dealers and trying to get those who are addicted to drugs the help they need to reach sobriety,” he says.
Breeding says that the community looks past addicts.
“Many people tend to overlook them. If I don’t look directly at them, I don’t see them; they don’t exist. They don’t exist in my world until that glass house is shattered. Then they have no choice but to face them.”
“There’s still a big stigma attached to addiction,” she says. “Families, if they have a person that has overdosed and died, it’s not making it in the paper that they died from addiction because of the stigma.”
Whitman thinks that the community is slowly becoming aware of the addiction problem because it’s now found in all people, rather than just one class.
“I think that it’s slowly changing, but the reason it’s changing is because heroin addicts are becoming high-class,” Whitman says. “It’s not poor kids, its middle class housewives that get hooked on pain pills, it’s elderly getting hooked on pain pills.”
Duffin adds that she thinks the stigma is fading because addiction influences everyone’s life.
“I think there was a stigma more back in the day. I think a lot of us have kinda become immune because it’s coming out into the mainstream now it doesn’t discriminate anymore, where it used to maybe be a certain group that you could say, “Oh that person’s a druggy.” Now it can affect anybody, it can be college-bound kid, it can be a doctor, it can be a nurse etc.” she says.
For Jessica Goins, the path out of addiction started with a class in prison through Eastern Michigan University on gender studies. It was a part of the Inside Out Program, where half the kids are in prison and half the students are not.
She admits to being afraid to continue her education because of her past history with drugs.
“I was always intimidated before to go to school, and so going through that, it just showed me I was no different than everybody else, so that was kinda cool,” she says.
Taking the class sparked her interest in enrolling at MCCC. She plans to talk with a counselor soon to work out everything she needs to get done.
She says she hesitated to enroll because she had no idea who to contact.
“I think my biggest part was, I didn’t even know where to start,” Goins says.
She said she wants to take a few classes before deciding on a major.
“I’d really like to get something in social work, but I know there are all sorts of fields that I can go in, so I need to venture out and see what I’m able to do, especially with my background. That’s something that’s gonna play a big part,” she says.
She thinks the hardest part of taking classes will be fitting all her other commitments into her schedule, from recovery meetings to a part-time job.
“Just finding balance with it all would probably be the biggest struggle,” Goins says.