SUNY allocates $2.5 million to combat substance abuse

Geneseo hopes to receive a grant from New York State to combat a potential increase in heroin and other substances. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the allocation of $2.5 million to go toward 20 SUNY and CUNY schools in order to help combat substance abuse. The state and colleges around New York have seen the rise in heroin usage lately, in addition to other drugs commonly used by college students, according to Alcohol and Other Drug Program Coordinator Sarah Covell.

While Geneseo has not seen an increase in heroin usage, the possibility exists, especially as it affects the surrounding area, Covell said.

“We haven’t actually noticed it, but we know that it’s all around us and we want to be prepared and be proactive about it,” Covell said.

There has been an increase in heroin usage all around the state, Covell said, but only 0.2 percent of students at Geneseo reported using heroin, according to a survey taken last spring.

The most common drugs used at the college include alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, cocaine and amphetamines, according to the same survey. In addition, there has been an increase in the misuse of highly addictive prescription drugs, according to Covell.

“Heroin is extremely addictive ... they’re linking it to the over-prescription of opioid painkillers, so opioid painkillers were being prescribed very readily,” Covell said. “People were becoming addicted: oxycontin, oxycodone, vicodin, percocet—all of those were causing people to become dependent upon them.”

While there have been restrictions placed upon the amount of prescription drugs being distributed readily, the rapid rise in levels of addiction remains a problem. With the lack of access to prescription drugs, which can become very expensive, people look toward other alternatives, according to Covell.

“Heroin becomes cheap and readily available, and so they switch to heroin. And that’s pretty much how the heroin epidemic has occurred,” Covell said.

There has been an increase in heroin usage in the Village of Geneseo and the area surrounding the college campus, according to Village of Geneseo Chief of Police Eric Osganian.

“We’ve seen more arrests associated with heroin possession and we’ve responded to more heroin overdoses than we have in the past years,” Osganian said. “For the last five years, we’ve seen a large increase; it wasn’t as noticeable 10 to 15 years ago, but we’re seeing more of it in the last number of years.”

Heroin was involved in the recent drug overdose of 21-year-old Colin Murphy, a transfer student at Geneseo. While the coroner’s office has not officially sent in the toxicology report, reports reveal that the student overdosed by using a combination of heroin and Xanax, according to Osganian.

While Geneseo has reportedly not been dealing with an increase in the use of heroin, the school is still preparing to handle a potential increase, according to Vice President for Student and Campus Life Robert Bonfiglio.

“There’s a real increase in the use of heroin and—while we haven’t addressed that specifically in the coalition before—I would say that it’s likely we will in the future,” Bonfiglio said.

The school is preparing a proposal to receive the grant that Cuomo and New York State will give to 20 SUNY and CUNY schools to help combat substance abuse.

“The grant is to encourage greater collaboration between college campuses and the communities in which they exist,” Covell said.

If the school receives the grant, there will be $125,000 available every year for the next five years to support initiatives and programming for the purpose of drug prevention, according to Covell.

These initiatives will include hiring personnel dedicated to dealing with only alcohol and drug prevention, establishing new programming and implementing education catered specifically for students and staff for alcohol and drug prevention, as well as media outreach and more, according to Covell.

“It would really be helpful to have a person who is a link between the students and the college and the community, because so many of these issues require what is called an Environmental Management Approach. To address the source of the alcohol that underage people are obtaining, this approach requires identifying the places where binge drinking might be occurring or other unsafe conditions,” Bonfiglio said. “The county has its own office of alcohol and substance abuse services and the college has its own office, but to have someone who is working to unite them with the local community Geneseo would be a good thing.”

Common issues that arise as a result of alcohol and drug abuse include binge drinking and overdose, blackouts leading to long-term memory loss, academic difficulties, sexual assaults, fights, injuries and more, according to Covell.

“People’s rate of serious consideration of suicide has risen considerably while under the influence of alcohol,” Covell said. “We know that people’s impulse control is impaired when alcohol is onboard, so if somebody is seriously considering suicide, they might be more likely to actually act on that.”

On average, 25 percent of arrests or transports for suicide attempts since 2005 have been by Geneseo students, according to data from the Village Police.

Covell hopes that by implementing a substance abuse program, the campus will become safer.

“The ultimate goal is to keep people safe. The ultimate goal is to keep our students safe,” Covell said. “We also hope to help them develop healthy habits, so they have balanced lives and so they’re having fun, but also so they’re able to succeed in college, careers and their lives.”