Let’s face it, life on Earth has to be one of the toughest missions. Many look for the “great escape” without having to leave the planet and they find it through drugs, some of which include marijuana, alcohol (yes, it is a drug), ecstasy, mushrooms, LSD, methamphetamine, Percocets, OxyContin, heroin and crack/cocaine.
At RICovery, a student-run organization at Rhode Island College, students talk about substance use. This is not an NA or AA meeting but a peer-to-peer support group. Those who drop in consist not only of those battling addiction but those in recovery, those who have friends or family with addiction issues and those who simply want to become more educated around addiction.
RICovery President Roxxanne Newman is a psychology major who transferred to RIC this year as a junior. A recovery coach for the Anchor Recovery Community Center in Pawtucket, Newman will be entering the chemical dependency addiction studies program at RIC next fall.
Newman is also a recovering heroin and cocaine addict who lived homeless for many years on the streets of Providence. Slowly, with the help of a “village,” the 33-year-old rebuilt her life. She’s been in recovery for five years and is the mother of a 16-month-old girl. Newman’s ever-present, childlike joy in simply being alive has returned, and with it, a passion to support other addicts.
“I lost a lot of years of schooling due to my drug addiction,” she said, “but I’m very grateful to be back in school and part of this movement. I’m an advocate at heart. I like to raise awareness that recovery is possible. At RICovery, we want to be that support for someone who might be struggling with substance abuse and needs to know how to get out of it and what resources are available.”
RICovery Vice President Shawn Shepherd is a psychology major in his senior year. Though Shepherd is not in recovery, he has had experiences with mind-altering substances, resulting in a healthy respect for them. He joined RICovery out of concern for a friend’s addiction and the need to support others. Shepherd holds biweekly open discussions on Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m. in Horace Mann 192, while Newman helps facilitate meetings every Thursday at 6 p.m. in Donovan 204.
Shepherd’s goal, he said, is to raise awareness without using fear tactics to keep students away from drugs. “Fear tactics really don’t work,” said Shepherd. “People are going to do what they want to do.” RICovery’s focus is rather on “harm reduction” through peer-to-peer support groups and training sessions.
Students drop in on meetings to release stress, to talk about addiction or to make plans to advance awareness. In addition, each semester RICovery holds training sessions on how to administer naloxone, the antidote for opioid overdose.
Newman, an overdose survivor, said that though naloxone training and other harm-reduction methods are not the solution to addiction, naloxone will help keep individuals alive so that they can work toward recovery.
“I know that the disease of addiction is stronger than I am, stronger than you are, stronger than any single individual,” she said, “It takes a community of people – whether they’re your school community, recovery community, church, family, doctors or therapists.”
“Right now, there are 19-and-20-year-olds at RIC who, unfortunately, are starting their journey down that path. They may not know that cocaine is being laced with fentanyl and that some Percocets are actually fentanyl stamped with Percocet numbers. They go to a party house off campus. Everyone’s hanging out, and someone says, ‘Let’s try one of these.’ If you’re under the influence of alcohol, or if you’re not thinking correctly, you try one and that’s it; it’s all over. [Read about the deadly effects of fentanyl
.] Any student with an addiction needs to know that when they’re ready, there’s a place to get help.”
“I encourage everyone to come to RICovery meetings, even if you don’t know anything about substance abuse,” Shepherd added. “Come and see what we talk about, what our lives are about. I like to market the idea that we’re learning together.”
In addition, to open discussions and Naloxone trainings, RICovery will host a recovery guest speaker in the spring, co-sponsored by the Psychological Society and the Student Nursing Association.