Health specialist encourages students to ‘just say know’ to substance use

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The idea that deeper understanding helps informed citizens make better decisions is what one health promotion specialist is hoping to spread far and wide.

Matt Vogel used this premises when addressing students Tuesday about drugs and alcohol.

Vogel explained that many drug education programs, especially Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign in the mid-1980s, focused on drug deterrence, which oversimplified a complex problem.

Matt Vogel visited TCU on April 3, 2018, to talk about important issues regarding substance use. (Photo by Michelle Carter)

Vogel’s approach to drug education is slightly differently– he wants students to Just Say Know.

“It’s not my place to stand up here and tell you what you need to do and scare you and shame you,” Vogel said. “That is a tactic that a lot of drug education was based on and it has fallen flat.”

Whether students are thinking of trying drugs, are habitual users or have gotten sober, Vogel said it is important for them to think critically about drug use and how it can intersect with other things in one’s life.

“I think the time is up for us to really have more pragmatic conversations, meeting students where they’re at and trying to be honest about this,” Vogel said. “It’s finding ways they can think about how they can be their best self or the healthiest person.”

Vogel discussed topics ranging from the impact drugs and alcohol can have on the body, to the historical presence and perception of drugs in the United States and even rising trends in overdose deaths due to opioids in the past five years.

No matter the drug, the frequency of usage or the dosage, Vogel stressed an important factor that relates to substance use: motivation.

“When we get into addiction, we need to understand who is this person and what is their story,” Vogel said. “It’s an interesting idea to conceptualize and think ‘why am I using and why do it use it in the way that I am.’”

Vogel also emphasized the importance of knowing oneself.

“Drug use is connected to health topics like stress management and physical and mental health,” Vogel said. “We have to understand in what ways drug use is interrupting, or not, different aspects of our lives.”

Regarding marijuana, Vogel said trends indicate more states will be legalizing the drug and that drug reform policy would be beneficial at a federal level.

“Instead of saying ‘don’t take drugs’, we have to be willing to explore drug use as these laws change,” Vogel said.

Caroline Albritton, program specialist for Alcohol and Drug Education, one of the sponsors of the event, leads a peer support group for students in recovery and spoke about the importance of having open dialogues about drug use on campus.

“When students talk about drug use openly, you can have an intentional dialogue around your relationship to those substances,” Albritton said. “Things start to make more sense and people can gain clarity on where they’re at, if they want to make changes and if so, how.”

Albritton described her office’s approach to drug usage and recovery as harm reduction.

“If someone is going to use something, how can they be informed to reduce any harms that are related to that,” Albritton said. “I think because sometimes that topic is taboo, people don’t talk about it. They don’t get the education and they can use drugs in a harmful way.”

Above all, the night’s message revolved around safety.

“We don’t want to lose a student to an overdose or to harmful behavior when they’re under the influence,” Albritton said. “It’s really about safety and healthy relationships with substances and giving students the power to choose what they put in their body or don’t.”

Vogel said students will make better decisions when they’re feeling good and healthy.

“You have a choice and autonomy in what you do in life and I encourage you to think of how you can be empowered,” Vogel said.