September 15, 2020 9:43:43 AM
Yue Stella Yu - [email protected]
As depression symptoms rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, students are now more at risk of drug abuse and overdose, said Sid Seal, compliance agent with Mississippi Board of Pharmacy.
Seal, who worked as a pharmacist for 26 years and has been with the state board of pharmacy for almost 10 years, spoke to members of the Starkville Rotary Club during their weekly luncheon Monday at The Mill at MSU Conference Center. The board of pharmacy, formed in 1920 by the Legislature, works with law enforcement to regulate and control pharmacy practices, including drug and medical device distribution, according to its website.
People often associate drug abuse with heroin and fentanyl, Seal said. But it can begin with more common drugs, he said, especially among youths.
"People always think when you talk about drug addiction, it's the heroin, it's the cocaine, it's the meth," he said Monday. "But you'd be surprised at where it starts. So much of it starts as something simple as Adderall."
Seal told The Dispatch he works with youth both through his work and in his personal life. Once, he said, law enforcement arrested a young man who was so addicted to hydrocodone that he was rushed to the hospital.
"He was taking 60 a day," he said. "They had him in handcuffs, and before they could get through the interview, they had to uncuff him and call 911."
Some who became addicted, he said, sought help from him.
"We caught a young lady one day. She was a pharmacy technician. The first thing she did, she sat down and she grabbed my arm and said, 'Sir, I need help,'" Seal said. "She was 20 years old. She broke her arm when she was 13. She had been stealing medication from her mother and grandmother for seven years."
College-age students, who often have little knowledge of the medicine field and have easy access to drugs, are especially susceptible to drug abuse, Seal said. During the COVID-19 pandemic, that risk is higher due to increased use of alcohol and drugs among students.
"It is a time of depression," Seal said.
By May, reported drug overdoses increased by almost 18 percent compared to the pre-pandemic period, according to a June study done by Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program, a drug use tracking project based at the University of Baltimore in Maryland.
Locally, drug overdose has been the leading reason for college-age student deaths over the past several years, Starkville Police Chief Mark Ballard told Rotarians during the Monday meeting. Between January 2016 and December 2019, eight college-age students died due to drug overdose or suicide with "a heavy presence of drugs in their system," SPD Public Information Officer Brandon Lovelady told The Dispatch after the meeting. That represents more than twice the three overdose-related deaths among students between January 2012 and December 2015, Lovelady said.
"We are on scene when parents arrive," Ballard said. "It is heartbreaking to go through those events. Unfortunately, that's the reality of what we are seeing."
Although he has not seen evidence that shows drug overdose rate among students is on the rise during the pandemic, Ballard told Rotary members the department investigated 11 drug dealers on Friday alone, eight of whom dealt with MSU students.
Ballard said his officers have undergone training to recognize behaviors under the influence of drugs. The department should also be willing to "talk to different groups" and help college-age students through drug court programs, he said.
Seal said help-seeking and healthy conversations need to be encouraged. Although COVID-19 restrains individuals from socializing with each other, people can still engage in outside activities and interact with each other with social distancing, he said.
"If you realize there's a problem going on or if you notice something different, talk to people," he told The Dispatch.
Yue Stella Yu is the local government reporter for The Dispatch. Reach her at 662-328-2424 (ext 106) or follow her on Twitter @StellaYu_Mizzou