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Wednesday February 1st

NC attorney general hosts first collegiate council meeting to combat college opioid crisis

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein led the first of four collegiate council meetings within the UNC system to work with students on combating opioid addiction on college campuses on Oct. 16.

The meeting, held at Appalachian State University, included representatives from ASU, Western Carolina University, UNC-Asheville, East Carolina University, N.C. State, UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Pembroke and UNC-Chapel Hill. Stein hopes that through the council's creativity and energy, it can help develop programs for initiatives that can serve to reduce illicit drug use by college students.

Dean Blackburn, director of student wellness at UNC Campus Health, said Stein is using an investigatory approach to get a sense of students' perspectives and insights.

“From my understanding, Attorney General Stein will take the feedback he gets from students from this council and combine it with the evidence-based approaches that we have seen from around the nation to try to institute some prevention, early intervention and recovery supports around the issue of opioid addiction,” he said.

Eliza Filene, a UNC-CH senior public policy major who attended the meeting, said her biggest takeaway was how culture and addiction are inextricably linked.

“We will never really understand opioid misuse disorders or be able to help move folks towards recovery without understanding the culture in which people live,” she said. “Opioid misuse disorders are scary and difficult to understand, but we can only ever make progress if we talk to each other."

She said students are well positioned to make a difference. 

"As one substance abuse counselor put it, peer-to-peer support is the most effective way to get someone the professional help they need," she said. 

Stein said opioid misuse is the most important health crisis facing North Carolina and the country and that the council will hear recommendations from both campus police and campus health.

“We are really letting the students drive this to make recommendations to us that would be most effective on college campuses to reduce people diverting prescription pain killers for illicit purposes and to reduce the spread of heroin and fentanyl,” he said.

Blackburn has had first-hand experiences dealing with students who have overdosed on opioids and other harmful substances.

“I've been here for 21 years, and I have worked with a number of students who have a history of dependence to substances including opioids,” he said. “I have worked with students who have overdosed, who have almost died, who have been resuscitated, rescued and have gone on to get the help they needed for substances treatment and today are living substance-free lives.”

The council's next meeting will take place in January at UNC-Wilmington. Students will take time between meetings to learn more about the issue and talk to campus organizations to come up with ideas.

Filene said she came away from the first meeting feeling humbled — she learned about work other campuses are doing regarding opioid misuse as well as resources available at UNC-CH.

"For many people on the council, the opioid epidemic was both a personal and professional passion," she said. "Two of my fellow council members had family members who had overdosed, and others were in recovery themselves. I'm beyond excited for what we are going to accomplish.”


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