Recovery programs on college campuses, often including special dorms, are multiplying fast amid the opioid crisis, spreading from a handful of campuses to around 100 across the country.
Most campuses offer substance-free housing — no alcohol or drugs allowed. But recovery housing goes further. With services like on-site counselors, peer support groups and sober social events, recovery housing is tailor-made for students recovering from substance abuse who need a supportive environment where they can stay clean amid the pressures of college.
“In the past, we talked about prevention,” said Tim Rabolt, director of community relations and strategic advancement for the Association of Recovery in Higher Education. “Now the topic of recovery is becoming more prevalent as individuals and organizations realize the need to support people who went through treatment in the long term.”
College students use opioids at lower rates than the general population, but campuses are not insulated from the crisis. Students who become addicted during college, as well as those who were addicted earlier in their teens and are now recovering, want to complete their education but need help in recovery and keeping their lives on track.
Neil King is one of them. Like many people struggling with addiction, King got hooked on painkillers that were legally prescribed. He was an eighth-grader when his doctor gave him two bottles of Vicodin for a broken arm. The death of a close friend shortly after led King to alcohol and harder drugs. By his senior year of high school, he had overdosed on heroin.
While recovering, his hospital roommate mentioned that Augsburg University, which he could actually see from his hospital window, had a recovery program. It wasn’t until a few years later, during a meeting in a halfway house following numerous attempts at sobering up, that he was reminded of the school’s “StepUP” program and decided it was time to apply. “The amount of suffering I went through put me in this point of desperation where I was willing to try anything,” King said.
Created 20 years ago as a pilot program to help students with any substance abuse disorder, the Augsburg program is now one of the largest recovery housing programs in the country. The StepUP house has a clinical staff and personalized counselors who meet with students every week.
When King first moved in to StepUP, he was in a perpetual state of crisis. He stabilized, got used to being back in school and worked through the initial difficulties of recovery with the help of his counselor. The staff also helped him get necessities; he had shown up to school with only a duffel bag and two trash bags filled with clothes.
Living in a residence hall where they check in frequently and their peers and recovery advisers see them all the time means the relapse rate is low, said Patrice Salmeri, the director of StepUP from 2002 to 2015. “It is a really good way to help students get through their opiate addiction.” That’s been the case on recovery-oriented campuses elsewhere.
“Historically, if a student relapsed, they didn’t have anybody that they could reach out to talk about what happened,” Chris Freeman, who supervises the Collegiate Recovery Program at the College of New Jersey near Trenton said. “Now, if a student is struggling, very often we can prevent them from relapsing. If they do relapse, we can get them back where they want to be.”
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