Penn State Lehigh Valley hosted its first Rehabilitation and Human Services (RHS) Day for more than 120 students, faculty and staff on April 3 on the campus. The theme of the program was “The Opioid Epidemic,” which elaborated on the terminology of substance abuse disorders, the stigma behind the disorder, current treatment options and more.
Leigh Cundari, assistant teaching professor and coordinator of the Rehabilitation and Human Services program at Penn State Lehigh Valley, arranged for eight speakers from various organizations to provide insight on the growing crisis.
“The purpose of this forum is to begin a campus dialogue about this critical challenge, which our society is facing,” said Cundari.
Bill Stauffer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Recovery Organization Alliance, opened with the history of the opioid epidemic, and strategies to counteract it. Dr. Gillian Beauchamp, emergency physician and medical toxicologist, and Paige Roth, addiction recovery specialist, both from Lehigh Valley Health Network explored how substance abuse disorders negatively impact the brain, and the current treatment options available for those affected. Jason Kamora, program director of the Halfway Home in the Lehigh Valley, explained the signs and symptoms of substance abuse disorder, such as dramatically changing moods, sudden financial difficulties and more.
Tim Munch, director of the Lehigh Valley Drug and Alcohol Intake Unit, and Teri Kistler, lecturer in rehabilitation and human services at Penn State Lehigh Valley, elaborated on the process of recovery from substance abuse and provided resources for participants to get involved. Judge Craig Dally, from the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas, discussed the drug court and legal ramifications about substance abuse.
Joe Starace, Lehigh University graduate intern at the Center of Humanistic Change, reflected on his personal journey living with a substance abuse disorder.
“I’ve lost my house, my car, my fiancée, family and friends because of my addiction,” said Starace. “The eye-opening moment for me to seek support for my addiction was my sister. She was the very person I always looked up to, and she told me I had to seek help because I was destroying my family. Since then, I’ve been more than two years sober.”
Alissa Patterson, a junior psychology student at Penn State Lehigh Valley, attended the forum to gain insight and treatment options for those affected by substance abuse disorders.
“I lost one of my family members because of this opioid crisis. I feel the treatment given to them wasn’t enough,” said Patterson. “Instead of looking at how to fix someone by prescribing more medicine, we should be focusing on providing counseling services and more.”
In addition to the speakers, attendees had access to professionals from several agencies including Lehigh Valley Drug and Alcohol Intake Unit, Treatment Trends, Center for Humanistic Change, and MARS, who had information tables set up in Centre Hall throughout the day. Attendees also had access to two impactful displays. Voices for Change provided a banner titled “Time to Remember, Time to Act,” which depicted local residents who have died from overdoses. In addition, the Pennsylvania Recovery Organization Alliance provided a quilt titled “Our Lives Matter,” which depicted people lost to addiction, each panel of which was created by the victim’s family.
RHS program day was a forum sponsored by the campus' Rehabilitation and Human Services program, with assistance from RHS student ambassadors Tiffany Bonilla-Cacaeres, Nikita Brady, Kate Byrnes, Jessica Fenstermaker, Eric Gainor, Reema Kaskas, Maria Motroni, Selena Nazario and Lyn Watson.
The forum was planned by Cundari, Kate Brynes, Marissa Ketcham, Teri Kistler, Tim Munsch, Selena Nazario, Paige Roth and Tammy Yocum-Cwienkala.
For more information about the opioid epidemic, visit hhs.gov.