Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Surviving the Opioid Crisis

medications-cure-tablets-pharmacy-51004It wasn’t too long ago that I spoke of the rising risk fentanyl posed to society. Fast-forward nearly two years later, and the opioid crisis we’re facing seems to only be getting worse, not better.

In 2015, one in nine deaths of Ontario youth aged 15 to 24 years were related to opioids. Since then, several hundred more have been reported. It is for these reasons that I encourage you to learn about the effects of opioids and the resources available to you and loved ones experiencing an opioid dependency.

What Are Opioids?
Opioids are medications that are most often prescribed by physicians to treat pain. Examples include morphine, oxycodone, and heroin. Like most pain relievers, opioids cause strong feelings of relaxation. This feeling can become highly addictive, and if opioids are taken in excess, users feel “high” and are at risk of overdosing.

What is the Opioid Crisis?

The primary opioid responsible for the crisis is fentanyl. Fentanyl is up to 100 times stronger, and therefore more addictive and dangerous, than morphine. Due to its addictive nature, it is often added without users’ knowledge to various street drugs. Such drugs are already highly addictive and dangerous, and unprescribed consumption of fentanyl drastically increases users’ chances of overdosing. Between January and September 2017, at least 2,923 deaths related to opioid overdoses occurred in Canada, 66% of which involved fentanyl.

What Are the Symptoms of Opioid Use?

Different opioids can produce different symptoms, but the general symptoms of opioids include the following:

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Liver damage
  • Infertility

The largest concern around opioid use is the high risk of overdose. For signs and symptoms of an overdose, visit our International Overdose Awareness Day blog.

What Resources Are Available to Combat the Crisis?

There are many safety precautions you and your loved ones can take to prevent overdosing on opioids, including the following:

  • Stay Informed: The Government of Canada has created a life-saving Opioids Toolkit to help you stay in the know.
  • Use Supervised Consumption Sites: Ideally, there wouldn’t be any illegal use of drugs, but supervised consumption sites provide safe spaces to use illegal drugs without fear of prosecution.
  • Acquire a Naloxone Kit: If you or someone you know is overdosing on opioids, administer naloxone to temporarily stop the overdose, and then call 911. Some provinces provide naloxone kits for free.

If you witness someone overdose or if you believe you are experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately. Even if you are unsure if what are witnessing or experiencing is an overdose, the safest option is to call 911.

If you or someone you know is using opioids ­– or any other recreational drug – and you fear for your and someone else’s safety, contact your health care provider, Aspiria’s Student Assistance Program services, or your school’s counselling services.

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Cheers to That: The Importance of Drinking Responsibly

Alcohol.jpegIf you’re one of the thousands of students who spent this past weekend celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on and off-campus, I hope you had a fun, safe, and enjoyable weekend. If, instead, you’re looking back on the weekend with regret, you may have learned that alcohol can have very serious negative effects, especially when binge drinking in public settings.

To binge drink means to consume multiple drinks on one occasion, and tragedies associated with binge drinking, especially for today’s youth, are all too real. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines suggest that women drink no more than 10 alcoholic beverages per week and that men drink no more than 15.

Although I encourage making the most of your post-secondary life, keep in mind the following potential risks of drinking in excess the next time you go out:

Drinking and Driving

According to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, it only takes one drink to reduce your reaction time while driving. Drinking alcohol can also result in decreased vision, reduced concentration, and inhibited judgement. Even the most skilled and confident drivers can’t keep these effects of alcohol at bay.

Not to mention the potential financial and legal consequences of driving under the influence. It’s illegal to drive with any alcohol in your system if you are under 21 years old. If you’re under 21 years old and you are caught with a blood alcohol content (BAC) above zero, your driver’s licence will be suspended and you can receive a fine of up to $500. Students have enough expenses as it is – impaired driving fines should not be one of them.

For those over the age of 21, the legal limit is technically 0.08, but fines and licence suspensions begin at 0.05.

As a post-secondary student you likely long for and revel in your independence, but if you’ve been drinking alcohol, ensure you have access to a designated driver, take public transit, or use a ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft.

Emotions

Drinking alcohol can enhance our emotions. This can be our extroversion, flirtatiousness, sense of humour, or – for a rare few – anger. Many drink to have fun, to feel good, to relieve stress; but a range of intense emotions such as spontaneity, sadness, anxiety, and anger can be exacerbated by alcohol.

Most people are to a certain extent risk-averse when sober. However, under the influence of alcohol, inhibitions are set free, and what we are left with are carefree revelers who no longer have the acuity to make sound decisions. Potential dangerous situations often are not taken seriously, such as partying on the 18th floor balcony of a high rise apartment, or at a swimming pool, by railroad tracks, in front of traffic, all of which are potential recipes for disaster.

Few would yell or take a swing at a friend or even a stranger while sober, but with alcohol in the system an accidental nudge could result in violence.

If you take a negative emotional turn while drinking alcohol, this may be caused by an underlying mental health concern. Consider making an appointment with a counsellor to discuss these negative feelings.

Sexual Misconduct

Perhaps the scariest of all risks of drinking is the increased risk of being sexually assaulted. Due to lowered inhibition, it’s very possible to be unaware when someone else is acting inappropriately, and a reduced reaction time can make it difficult to ward off unwanted advances.

If you hit it off with someone at a bar or party, be mindful of the other person’s alcohol intake. Under Canadian law, intoxication is considered a factor that affects a person’s ability to consent. Intimacy without consent changes the lives of both parties, forever. When in doubt, get their number and call them when you are both sober.

Always keep an eye on your drink. At large parties and cramped bars, it’s easy for someone to put something in the drinks of potential victims. Never leave your drink unattended.

Students often treat drinking with friends at house parties, at the local pub, or on St. Patrick’s Day as a right of passage or tradition, but it can and should be done with care. When drinking, keep these tips in mind: watch how much you drink, watch your emotional state while you drink, watch what goes into your drinks, and stay safe. If you’re concerned about your state when drinking alcohol, reach out to a trusted friend or family member, school counsellor, or Student
Assistance Program for help.

 

 


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Is Social Media Affecting Your Mental Health?

media-998990_640For work or play, social media has become a strong part of our lives, and it is here to stay. Social media allows us to be continuously connected with family, friends and the pulse of business, even while we are busy doing other things! Social media helps us find jobs, events, lets us know what our friends and families are up to, and it links us to news that is happening not only in our community, but literally around the world. Despite social media policies and your organization’s attempts to manage your employees’ use of social media at work, constantly checking in with social media on a regular basis has become the norm in most offices, instead of the exception.

Allowing your employees to access their social sites results in happier employees, which in turn results in increased productivity and retention – but it can also result in anxiety, depression, and overall poor mental health.

Studies have found that Facebook and other social media platforms can negatively affect a user’s mental health. Facebook’s former vice-president for user growth has stated that the platform is slowly destroying how society works by creating short-term dopamine (reward-motivated behaviours). One study discovered that technology is not only addictive, but it can have mental health consequences such as depression, stress and sleep disorder.

Whether they are using it for fun or for business, it is your responsibility to inform your employees that too much social media can have a negative impact on their mental health. So how do we support an employee’s need to interact with social media without jeopardizing their productivity? Below I’ve outlined a few tips to help you help your employees better navigate social media at work and beyond.

Unplug. Researchers have found that unplugging from social media gives your brain the time it needs to recharge before starting a new day. Create a team or individual challenge for your employees by asking them to unplug for a morning, a workday, or 24 hours. You can then regroup with your team and elicit feedback as to the changes they noticed in themselves while being unplugged. If your staff generally comments about not sleeping well, feeling depressed, or just stressed out, give them this challenge to try and see how much better they feel.

Limit usage time. Like distracted driving, engaging in social media throughout the day can also be a distraction from focussing on work. While it is difficult to “police” employees’ connectedness with their personal social media, you can suggest reducing social connection time to breaks and lunch hours only. In fact, inviting staff to use their social media at work judiciously may lead to better trust, honesty, and general happiness among staff, resulting in better mental health.

Personal Connection. Encourage more face-to-face time for your staff. This is not a meeting; rather, it could be a luncheon, a learning session or potluck. These are great ways to build team connections, collaboration, sharing and positively increase the mental health of your team. You can also encourage staff to interact with posts about team promotions beyond a simple “like”. Send them a private message or leave a comment on the post, as being an active user can better your mental health.

While social media is absolutely a powerful tool, like everything else in life, technology should be used in moderation to prevent it from creating or exacerbating mental health problems.

I hope these tips will help guide you on a new path to better mental health for your employees Remember, interacting on social media, limiting time on the platforms, and focusing on encouraging personal connections will positively affect your mental health. What have you done to limit social media time in your workplace?


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International Overdose Awareness Day: “Festival Fever” and Party Drugs

tablets-1001224_1280.jpgFor many students, summer vacation means music festival time! While concerts are non-stop parties and great fun, it’s easy to let loose and get out of control. Today opioids, especially Fentanyl, are all too common ‘party drugs’ as is MDMA (methylenedioxy-n-methylamphetamine), also known as ecstasy or molly, that often make an appearance at these festivals. Using these drugs can lead to a variety of serious health complications, especially when taken in conjunction with alcohol, and can potentially be fatal. August 31st is International Overdose Awareness Day and I think it’s a great opportunity to discuss the dangers of drug use and abuse.

Why is Overdose Awareness Day so important?

Getting high is often considered a rite of passage, without giving much thought to the consequences of drug use. After all, it’s only recreational, so what’s the harm? Drug use, even recreational, can lead to tragedy. International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event that raises awareness of overdose and reduces the stigma of drug-related deaths. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends who have suffered as a result.

What is an overdose?

An overdose means that you have taken too much of a drug(s) than your body can cope with. Any drug can cause an overdose, including prescription drugs prescribed by a doctor. As many of you may already know, prescription drug abuse by teenagers is a huge problem in North America, so if you’re taking a prescription drug, be mindful of the dose and take your medication only as prescribed. If you think that recreational drug use is fun, think again. Recreational drug use is never a good idea. It can lead to drug abuse and an overdose can happen without warning.

Can you recognize the signs and symptoms of an overdose?

Different drugs can produce different symptoms but the general symptoms of an overdose may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of balance
  • Seizures
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Diarrhea
  • Disorientation
  • Agitation
  • Paranoia

 

What should you do if you suspect someone youre with is experiencing an overdose?

An overdose is a medical emergency. Call 911 immediately! Even if you’re not sure, err on the side of caution and call 911. Stay with the person until help has arrived. If the person has passed out, put them on their side in case they vomit. Don’t give them anything to eat or drink. Tell the emergency responders what substances have been taken and in what amounts (if possible).

Why do people overdose?

Although most overdoses are accidental, they can also be deliberate. It’s very important to recognize the difference and to ensure that the right mental health support is made available. Overdoses are frequently associated with drug abuse. Peer pressure is a strong factor in starting to use and abuse drugs, particularly for young people. If you have a mental health disorder such as depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or post-traumatic stress disorder, you’re more likely to become dependent on drugs. Self-medication can also be a coping mechanism for anxiety, depression and loneliness.

It’s very important to address the issues of drug use and overdose and how they relate to mental health issues. Do you have a Student Assistance Program (SAP)? If so, contact them as soon as possible. I strongly urge you to get the help that you need so that you can live happy, productive lives.


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Adderall: When a Study Hack Becomes a Drug Problem

studyI recently wrote a blog about the Fentanyl crisis affecting Canadians today. This week, I want to discuss another drug crisis impacting Canadian youth: Adderall abuse. Adderall is a prescription drug used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children and adults, but the drug has gained popularity among post-secondary students who use the medication as a “study drug”. When used for its intended purposes, Adderall helps increase one’s ability to focus. When people who do not suffer from ADHD use the drug, they experience laser-sharp concentration, making it a popular study tool for stressed students. According to the American Journal of College Health, 76% of students will be offered the prescription drug throughout their four years of university, and about 30% will accept it.

Back when I was in university, Adderall was not used as a study drug, and if it was, it definitely wasn’t discussed as openly as it is today. When we began offering our SAP services, I was shocked to learn just how prevalent the use of Adderall is on many campuses today. As some schools are in the middle of midterms, and others are preparing for final projects and exams, I thought I would write this blog to educate students on the dangers of this quick fix study trick.

People who have used the drug for studying purposes report feeling focused and motivated to complete their work. Spending hours in the library studying for an exam can be mind numbing, but because Adderall was designed to lengthen your attention span, students find it easier to get through their workload.

Adderall is one of the most addictive prescription drugs on the market. When a student uses it and receives a great mark on a paper or exam, it can be difficult not to resort back to the method that helped them achieve it. A lot of students carry the mantra, “I’ll just use it this once to get through this tough exam period”, but if a student is relying on Adderall for their brain power, what’s to stop them from using it in the working world as well?

Adderall can affect your body in a number of ways. Short–term, students who take Adderall experience feelings of nervousness, nausea and agitation. Since the drug maintains your focus, it also reduces your appetite. Consequently, students often miss important meals after taking the drug. Abuse of the drug has been linked to eating disorders and other associated mental health issues.

After taking excessive amounts of Adderall over a period of time, your body begins to depend on it, just like any other drug. Suddenly it can be difficult to accomplish daily tasks without popping a few pills first. As mentioned in my previous blog about Fentanyl, people often begin abusing one drug and move on to more powerful substances to get a more intensified high. Last year, the Toronto Star published an article discussing the link between Adderall use and suicide.

So how is it so easy for students to get their hands on this drug? It is estimated that only 1 in 20 children in Canada have ADHD, but that doesn’t stop students desperate to improve their grades. A quick Google search can expose hundreds of articles with titles like, “How to trick your doctor into prescribing you Adderall”. Faking symptoms of ADHD can lead doctors to a misdiagnosis, and students can walk away with a powerful prescription. Students who have received prescriptions are known to sell the drug to their peers for up to $25 a pill.

Have you or a loved one recently started using Adderall to combat school stress? Here are my tips on how you can deal with the problem now:

  1. Get organized without the use of prescription medication. Talk to your teachers if you are feeling stressed, and surround yourself with positive people who want to help you succeed.
  2. If you are experiencing physical symptoms from Adderall use, talk to a medical professional. Talking about drug use can be difficult, but living with an addiction is harder.
  3. Talk to your campus mental health or SAP provider for assistance on managing drug use and stress levels. They have the tools to assist you through an Adderall dependency, or managing the challenges of schoolwork.

There is no denying that post-secondary life is difficult. I remember staying up late to finish papers and stressing over exams for hours, I was always a crammer. While taking Adderall might seem like a short-term solution to your stress, working hard to get a good grade is a lot more rewarding.