Local family shines light on substance abuse awareness

Eva Mihelich, News editor

Although there is a greater awareness today of the dangers of substance abuse, it is still a prevalent issue that impacts millions of people in the U.S. For instance, the current opioid crisis is just one example of the modern epidemic of addiction.

A local family in Erie recently held a fundraiser to honor a loved one who passed away from a drug overdose.

Tonya Pursell was only 20 years old when she passed away from an overdose, which just goes to show how early on people can struggle with substances.

Pursell’s family held this fundraiser at the Cab where they raffled off prizes and raised money for drug abuse awareness.

Her family wants to get the message out that you should not be afraid to ask for help if you need it, especially in cases of addiction.

Pursell was just 20 years old, which is why it is important to also talk about drug addiction and substance abuse in college communities.

Although this is not a common issue to find on Mercyhurst’s campus, it is still an issue nonetheless, and spreading awareness around the topic is one way to prevent others from falling into unhealthy patterns.

One common misconception about substance abuse is that it is solely when people are abusing hard drugs such as cocaine, fentanyl, or opioids.

However, substance abuse also includes alcohol, which is a common part of college culture today.

Drinking in college is something that is greatly emphasized. Binge drinking, severe hangovers and benders are all glorified and are commonly normalized on campuses across the country.

However, many people in college drop out of school due to issues with alcohol, which begs the question, “How do you know if someone is just partaking in college culture, or if they are developing an alcoholism issue?”

Judy Smith, director of the Counseling Center, said that this is an important issue that should not be tiptoed around.

When asked about what to do when a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, Smith said it is a tricky situation to bring up, “You should keep it short, sweet and simple – not confrontative.

You should approach them out of a place of concern, not ‘I’m angry with you,’ but rather ‘I’m happy to be of any help I could be for you,’” said Smith.

Another simple way to stage an intervention is to let the person know that you would be happy to give them some resources that they could utilize on their own, which gives them the space they might need to heal on their own with the support of knowing that you care.

Regarding the line between a typical college lifestyle and binge drinking issues, Smith said that there are warning signs you should be on the lookout for.

“It’s how much their whole social, recreational life revolves around going out and drinking. There should be a balance to their usage, because it is not only physical health that can be impacted. It’s also your mental health, your academics and your friendships,” said Smith.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as “a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent or higher.”

For a typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming 5 or more drinks (male) or 4 or more drinks (female) in about 2 hours.

This definition puts things into perspective for those participating in the party scene of college.

Although binge drinking in America has become something quite normal, it is important to take a step back and reflect on the dangers binge drinking has on your well-being.

NIAAA goes on to talk about the risks this has on college students. “Drinking this way can pose serious health and safety risks, including car crashes, drunk-driving arrests, sexual assaults, and injuries. Over the long term, frequent binge drinking can damage the liver and other organs.”

Students may neglect asking for professional help due to fear of law enforcement, especially if someone is drinking underage, or if they are using illegal drugs.

Regardless, it is important to remember that the Counseling Center, along with the Cohen Health Center, has a system of confidentiality in which they cannot report you unless you are a danger to yourself or others.

Smith said that students should absolutely utilize the Counseling Center for situations like this, and that it is actually quite common for students struggling with substance abuse to make an appointment.

“Talk to somebody at the Counseling Center, that would be protected information. People sometimes come in and they think they’re smoking pot too much or they’re getting bored with the party scene, but they want to feel part of the group. It’s rare, but maybe somebody is hitting something harder. If that person is willing to come in, we may refer them to somebody in the community or outside programs,” said Smith.

If you believe that you or someone else is struggling with substance abuse, please ask for help from either your friends, family or the Cohen Student Health Center.

It is not something to be ashamed about because it is much better to address the problem and solve it rather than allow it to spiral and get out of control.

Your life is valuable, and substance abuse can quickly take over if you do not act promptly.