Opioid Crisis Impacting Young Adult Population

By Barbaros Dinler, CCS, ACS, LCADC, LPC

Director of ADAP, Counseling Services

The opioid crisis has received a good deal of publicity and attention over the last few years, and rightfully so. This issue impacts all aspects of life, not just the person who is addicted or dependent to the many forms of opiates. In order to begin to understand this crisis, it’s important to understand the type of substances that are classified as opioids. The one that makes the news on a more frequent basis is heroin, which is derived from the opium plant and mixed with many products inevitably causing the potency to change. This is by far the most important factor why some individuals overdose on opiates. The inability for the body to tolerate the fluctuating amount of opiates causes the heart to go into cardiac arrest. If the overdosing person isn’t resuscitated quickly enough it could cause death. The other infamous drug is the medication fentanyl, which has been found in heroin and increases the rate of potential overdoses as the body cannot regulate this mixture. Other opiates in this class of drugs include Percocet, Vicodin, Morphine and Oxycodone to name a few. It is very important to note that all these medications can be abused and any individual can become addicted to them, not just heroin.

In my professional career that spans over 15 years and across 3 states, I’ve met and counseled many opiate dependent individuals from all walks of life. A common theme amongst them was the disbelief that they could become addicted and were not able to stop, regardless of desire, will or intention. Many individuals may develop dependency that may begin with experimentation in their early teenage years. I’ve seen others who became dependent due to a medical injury which required a prescription narcotic. It’s vital to break the bias and stereotype of the physical appearance of an individual who is dependent on opioids. This is how we as a society can help these individuals break the cycle of dependency on any opioid substance.

Addiction does not discriminate against gender, sexual orientation, race, and religion or education status. According to the CDC, New Jersey has seen a 16.4 per 100,000 people increase of overdose deaths from 2014-2015. This is not just an individual issue, it impacts all fabrics of our lives, from EMT workers, emergency rooms, schools, neighborhoods, family and friends. Providing support and compassion to individuals suffering from any form of addiction, specifically opiate dependency, should be a priority for all of us. Our society isn’t victorious when young adults accidentally overdose due to substance use.

Treatment is available and it works. At the Counseling Center on campus we have licensed professionals to address any and all forms of substance use and/or addiction. The center also provides individual and group therapy to support our students who may be struggling with substances. We provide a safe and comfortable environment where they can share their story and find other strategies to help them deal with any physical, emotional or spiritual pain. Rutgers University-Newark has acknowledged that students in recovery should be afforded the same access to education as anyone else, which is why we have Recovery Housing on campus to support those students during their recovery.