The University of Southern Maine is on its way to creating a collegiate program for university students struggling with substance use disorders. With the hopes to create Students and Recovery center on campus and future plans to discuss sober housing on campus, opportunity is in the works to end the stigma attached to addiction and provide the USM community with resources for continuing recovery.
Andrew Kiezulas, a senior at the University of Southern Maine has dealt with addiction first hand and has seen how the illness affects the people.
The problem with heroin, he explained, it that you feel as if you have to keep using, otherwise you experience withdrawal symptoms such as vomiting and migraine headaches.
He is co-founder of the group Students and Recovery, which meets every Tuesday in Payson Smith room 203.
“Not many people really understand what substance use disorder looks like,” explained Kiezulas. “So they see you drinking or they see you doing drugs and they say ‘why can’t you just stop?’ You want to shake them and tell them it runs so much deeper than that.”
Student Recovery Liaison Ross Hicks has been working closely with administration to ensure changes are made to accommodate students seeking recovery.
According to Hicks, a lot of people think substance use disorder means you’re morally weak or don’t have the willpower. He hopes to eliminate the stigma associated with addiction and educate the public on what it means to those who suffer from it.
“It is a medical condition and there is a treatment,” said Hicks. “If we address it as so, we can frame the conversation in a way that will hopefully lead to better access to treatment and for those of us that have been able to accumulate some measure of sobriety, whether it’s days or years, we tend to identify ourselves as long-term recoverers.”
Hicks explained that the push for a Students and Recovery Center started two years ago but after meeting some resistance from administration for bureaucratic red tape sort of things, the effort kind of petered out. For everyone involved in this student group, this semester represents a new effort in the history of USM.
“Our combined efforts thus far has been pushing to establish a recovery center modeled after the other student centers with a full-time coordinator,” explained Hicks. “Based on the conversation we had with the President Cummings last week, he seemed to agree that potentially one of the white houses may be appropriate for it and has been extremely supportive for this cause.”
According to both Kiezulas and Hicks, the current administration seems to understand the urgency of implementing a collegiate recovery program here at USM. Integrating it into the school’s policy would allow for Students and Recovery to be more than just a group on campus. Adding a center for students in Woodbury could provide opportunity for all students on campus who are struggling with substance use disorders to get the extra help and support they need.
“So many kids these days think they’re so broken. We’re made to feel like we’ll have to suffer from the disease of a substance use disorder for the rest of our lives,” said Kiezulas. “I would like to change that perspective. Recovery is this incredibly hilarious amazingly powerful experience that is so awesome. We want to remind people that recovery truly is possible.”
According to Kiezulas, the space they would get in Portland would be named after USM Student David Zysk, who tragically died from drug overdose. His recent passing has been a devastation for all who were lucky enough to know him.
“I’ve lost a lot of people – we all have,” said Kiezulas. “One thing I’m hoping is that they didn’t go in vain. That we as a community we can learn grow from that tragedy, celebrate the time we had with them and grow from that experience.”
For Kiezulas, the road to recovery will continue to be one where he grows and learns. He explained that it’s important for people to realize that his illness doesn’t define who he is as a person.
“I may die a person in long term recovery. I may have an active substance use disorder, but I don’t have to be an alcoholic my whole life. I’m in recovery along with many other incredible people,” explained Kiezulas. “The truth is, I like to think I’m strong and impervious to what other people say and think – but it matters. Language holds incredible strength and sway. That’s why a number of us are so passionate about language because it holds a lot of power.”