Amidst the stark white antebellum columns and vivid green landscapes, the University of Delaware can be highly competitive. Coined a research University, the caliber of intellectual influence can be cutthroat. Residential and Greek life can serve as the heartbeat of social life for the “Fighting Blue Hens” to de-stress from a long week. Although the quest for a degree and booming festivities can go hand and hand, there is one group of individuals who stare a common ground that go far beyond the college experience.
“Our student’s are excelling in their academia. They like to call themselves the faces of recovery around campus,” states Jessica Estok, the driving force behind the University Of Delaware’s Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC). She continued, “One of the overwhelming characteristics of college students in Delaware is to have a friend who has struggled or passed away from addiction.”
Delaware And The Opioid Crisis
Delaware has been no stranger to the opioid epidemic and in recent years they have been hit hard. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Delaware had the ninth-highest drug overdose rate in 2016; the death rate was a 40 percent increase from the year before. Nationwide, drug overdoses accounted for about 64,000 deaths in 2016, a 22 percent increase from 2015, and roughly 40,000 of those deaths can be attributed to opioids. In the 12 months leading up to January 2017, Delaware reported 309 overdose deaths, a 71-percent increase over numbers reported in January 2016 and the highest of the 22 states that reported overdose numbers. Delaware, as a whole, is home to less than a million people.
As heroin and opiate addiction remain the driving factor behind a majority of crime statewide, there are agencies that have been forced to re-evaluate how they respond to those suffering from addiction. However, The University of Delaware has paved their own way to foster recovery as well as to respond to the ongoing opioid crisis.
Building A Recovery Environment
University of Delaware’s CRC is not a treatment program, facility or halfway house. While it does provide resources for students in need of clinical resources or referrals, it’s main purpose is to build a recovery-friendly environment on campus. “We have a couple students who are in long-term recovery, one has about a year, and another has around six months. There can sometimes be a stigma associated with being in recovery, especially on a college campus. This kind of support and safety can ultimately change an entire college experience for students in recovery,” stated Estok.
“We initially began in 2014 and quickly grew from word of mouth,” Jessica explained. “We’ve really been growing organically over the past few years and always receive a ton of support from a number of departments on campus. 1-2% of our population identify as being in recovery and we want to make their presence known.”
The University of Delaware’s Collegiate Recovery Community consists of a group of students who believe in the importance of supporting one another and fostering recovery as well as including students with family members or friends in recovery. The CRC emphasize’s a safe and non-discriminatory setting where students can share about struggles, questions, learn more, and in turn, help each other out.
Stemming from a model of peer to peer support, the program’s students have been known around school as leaders and can be seen encouraging one another no matter where they’re at in their recoveries. Estok noted, “Each day we’re developing a sense of community where others can meet up outside campus, experience recovery, have fun, and go to meetings together.
What’s Different About It
What makes this recovery program different is that it is so easily accessible. To join the University’s recovery community, there are no formal requirements other than a student be actively participating in their recovery efforts. “We see our students doing much more than that though,” Jessica noted.
The program is not counseling based, however resources for those who need it can be utilized. Additionally, there is no application process. A student does not have to be in recovery to be a member of the CRC and those who have even been impacted by an addiction can experience the benefits from this tight knit community.
Jessica explained, “This area of Delaware has lost a lot of young people to the opioid epidemic. One of our collegiate recovery members had a few friends pass last summer. It’s important that we include these students who resonate with what the entire state has been going through.”
“We don’t have an application process, and there are no formal requirements other than a student who is doing something to actively support their recovery efforts. We encourage students to participate in various recovery programs such as: NA, AA, Al-Anon, Smart Recovery, or going to church. The options are limitless.”
Blue Hen’s Are Breaking The Stigma
Over the past four years, The University has been breaking the stigma while creating a welcoming community around campus – which can be challenging to navigate particularly under a college campus.
“We have a handful of students who are at a place in their recovery where they feel like the can reach out to new students who are actively struggling. They are refreshing advocates with their perspectives on substance abuse. Our students like to make themselves known around campus as an effort to help break the stigma. It’s helpful for other students to know there’s a solution – there’s a way out.”
The collegiate recovery community hosts a range of weekly and monthly events for their students in sobriety as well as other’s who are curious about addiction recovery. Weekly meetings can offer a range of topics, “If they need to talk about how their week has been they have the space to do that. If everyone is in a good spot we use it to plan events and different things. We’re not always locked into one thing,” Estok said.
Additionally, recovery Yoga is offered once a week. The CRC is partnered with the Transformation Yoga Project to provide yoga for individuals impacted by trauma, addiction, and incarceration through mindfulness-based yoga. They’ve also partnered with local advocacy group, “Attack Addiction” to create their own team and take part in a 5K run raising awareness surrounding the stigma associated with addiction.
Leadership opportunities are offered for students to present recovery based programming for organizations and classrooms if they request it. The director stated, “We did have a student that presented at a conference a few months ago. She did an amazing job. Our students are highly engaged and academically successful. They’re going a long way.”
Speakers are invited onto campus to take part in thought provoking panel discussions following documentaries about recovery and substance abuse. “We’ve shown ‘Generation Found,’ ‘The Anonymous People,’ and this semester we’re showing ‘Heroin,’” noted Estok.
“This semester we’re planning on doing a Naloxone training on campus. It’s open to students, faculty, and staff. We’re really excited about it.”
Naloxone is a life-saving opioid antagonist designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. It can quickly restore normal respiration to a person who’s breathing has slowed or stopped as a result of overdosing due to heroin or other opioid pain medications.
During this training, students, faculty and staff will be educated to recognize and respond effectively to an opioid-associated overdose emergency. They’ll learn the tools needed to administer Naloxone, which can ultimately lead in saving a life.
“Anyone is welcome. We’re hoping that this can be an incredibly empowering experience and anticipate to increase our visibility throughout campus. Our evolution has largely been due to our program members and we want to provide them the best opportunities as possible – which can ultimately save lives,” Estok said.
What’s Next For The University Of Delaware
There’s no doubt that University of Delaware is creating a footprint in collegiate community world beyond it’s scope, but will continue to break barriers associated with the stigma of addiction.
Their next plan is to focus their efforts on a “Recovery Ally Training” which will consist of a series of short videos around topics associated with Substance Abuse Disorder and Recovery. This will ultimately educate, prevent, and inform people on the dangers associated with substance abuse as well as additionally continuing to break the stigma. They’re hoping to launch this within the fall of this year.
“We’re strengthening our partnership with residential life and housing. In addition, we are working with student health services to put questions on their radar for students they may come into contact with that happen to be struggling,” Jessica said. “We just want to be here for students who need us. Our resources are great, and our students are even greater. They’re the one’s changing things and who will continue to create a great environment for students to come.”
The Collegiate Recovery Community at the University Of Delaware does an incredible job of helping students gain the tools they need to sustain recovery after leaving college and has an unspoken common ground. They’re changing the standards of recovery, breaking the stigma, and are providing their student’s with more than just a degree.
For more information go to: The University Of Delaware