As directors of two units that provide direct services to students with active substance use and those who are in recovery, we want to express our concerns about the Fourth Estate article “Substance Abuse Rates Spike Among College Students: Mason lacks the recovery resources that other Virginia schools offer”. The article suggests that Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and the Student Support and Advocacy Center (SSAC) are unprepared to support students who are in recovery or currently presenting with substance abuse concerns. This is unfortunate, as students who might otherwise have sought our help may be less likely to do so as a result of that message. There are many ways these students can be supported that were not mentioned:
* The Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) clinician in Student Health regularly meets with students to discuss their drug and alcohol use and provides brief treatment and referrals for specialty treatment.
* NARCAN, the drug that can be used in emergency situations to reverse the effects of opioid overdose, is available to both Mason police and to Student Health personnel.
* In CAPS, students may be offered services that can include evidence-based psychiatric services (e.g., prescription medication management for alcohol and tobacco cravings), a therapy group specifically targeted to students who are using substances to cope with traumatic experiences (Seeking Safety), and individual therapy. Students who require specialized or intensive treatments are connected with community treatment programs, like those found at the Inova Comprehensive Addiction Treatment Services program.
* CAPS also offers access to free, evidence-based psychoeducational self-help through TAO Connect, which can be accessed on the CAPS main webpage. Two modules focus on substance use and recovery (1) Evaluating My Alcohol and Drug Use, and 2) Recovery Skills and Topics.
* Among other issues, SSAC serves students who themselves are struggling with substance use or who are worried about a friend or a loved one. SSAC’s mission is to educate students on various health topics, including substance use, and to intervene with those facing a challenging period in their lives; however, SSAC does not treat students. SSAC staff will meet with any student who is interested in seeking support services. Once the student discloses or is believed to be struggling with addiction, the individual is then connected with local resources, which are best fitted to address the student’s needs.
* SSAC also supports a group called Patriots for Recovery, which is a social gathering for any student who identifies as being in recovery from substance use. Last year, the group had very low attendance, so this academic year, we are evaluating how to structure this group and involve more students.
A greater point to be highlighted is that substance abuse recovery cannot be the responsibility of a few offices on a university campus. Mason’s services are positioned within a larger health system in the community. Serious substance abuse is a public health issue and supporting recovery is a campus-wide and community responsibility. To this end, Mason is participating in the Jed Campus initiative to evaluate and strengthen our practices and policies around the prevention of suicide and serious substance abuse. A team from the Jed Foundation met with senior leaders from across the university on Tuesday, September 25 to begin creating a strategic plan with this focus. Mason has made a strong commitment to the goal of supporting student well-being, with substance abuse recovery being an important part of this.
We invite all students who are looking for support for their emotional well-being to seek services at CAPS, SSAC, and Student Health Services.
Malgorzata Olszewska, Ed.D.
Director, Student Support and Advocacy Center Executive Director,
Rachel A. Wernicke, Ph.D.
Counseling and Psychological Services