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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Home for the Summer: A Guide to Living with Your Family, Again

271-ted72544532-ae-id-384598-jpegCongratulations, you survived exam season and a full year of school!

By now, you may have moved back in with your family for the summer. For some, this may be exciting, but for others, you may cringe at the thought of having to spend the entire summer living at home. It can be highly stressful sacrificing some aspects of your independence, especially if you’ve been calling the shots while away at school.

Regardless of your enthusiasm level for your familial situation, here are my tips on how to make the most out of living with your family again:

Maintain Your Social Circle

If your departure to school meant your parents became empty nesters while you were away, they may want to spend copious amounts of time with you while they can. However, your intentions may involve spending as much time as possible with new and old friends. With communication and empathy from both sides, everyone can understand each other’s social needs. To avoid feelings of isolation during the summer, try to stay in contact with whom you can, and remember to join in on family dinners and outings once in a while so as not to make your family feel isolated from you.

Avoid Going Stir Crazy

If you really need a break from your family and some time in the sun, take a road trip to meet your friends. Spending time outdoors, like at the beach or in a campground, is a great way to reduce stress. Prolonged time in cities can fatigue the brain, and time in nature allows it to rest. Having fun or relaxing outside throughout the summer can give your mind a much-needed break before returning to the grind of studies.

Help Around the House

A giant bonus of living with family is home-cooked meals, but you may want to consider cooking for your family once in a while. Cooking can be quite effective at combatting negative emotions, and testing out healthy recipes can be especially beneficial for your mental and physical health.

If you really want to get in your parents’ good books, sweep, vacuum, or dust when you have a moment. Cleaning not only benefits the household, but it can also directly affect your own mental and physical health. Simply making your bed every morning makes you 19 per cent more likely to get a good night’s sleep.

Even when everyone may mean well, hurtful things can be thought of, said to, or done between family members. If you are having difficulty adjusting to being home for the summer, please seek counselling and stay strong knowing that this living situation is only temporary.


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Coping Strategies for the Humboldt Broncos Tragedy

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Image courtesy of Sportsnet

It has been bittersweet this past week to see the world come together over the tragic loss of so many members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team, which occurred on Friday, April 6th.

Tragedies like this bring to my mind a pebble that’s been thrown into water: it touches so much more than the direct point of impact. Like ripples in the water, the unexpected loss of life has impacted many people, from the families of the deceased to the survivors, the local community, Canadians, and people around the world. We are all indirect victims of this tragedy.

Everyone is uniquely affected by the Humboldt tragedy. Based on my experience working with individuals in crisis, I’ve outlined some suggestions to help you cope and maybe even support those people who are having a terrible time making sense of what happened in Humboldt.

Directly Impacted

Life-altering events like this one have a profound impact on our lives, and we may never fully feel whole again after the loss of a loved one.

We all experience grief differently, but the important thing to keep in mind is that you allow yourself time to grieve. Know that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, and those around you will do whatever they can to support you during this difficult time.

If you find that this event may have triggered buried emotions or perhaps even PTSD, reach out to a grief counsellor as soon as possible to discuss your feelings and emotional state.

Indirectly Affected

Even if you have not been directly affected by this tragedy, you may know someone who was. Make sure they are getting the help they need but also tread lightly, as everyone deals with crisis differently. If they ask to be alone, leave them alone, but check in every couple of days to make sure they are okay. It may seem difficult to find a balance between being too involved and not involved enough, but they will appreciate your efforts in the long run.

You may also be indirectly affected because you are a parent of a child on a hockey team, you have children the same age, or you are a compassionate human being. If you find that you are out of sorts and are having difficulty focusing because of this tragedy, talk about it with your support system, whether it is a family member, a friend, or a work colleague. Also know that professional counsellors are available to support you during this or other difficult times in your life.

Show Your Support

No matter how you may be connected to this tragedy, here are some ways you can join the growing support for the Humboldt community:

  • Wear a Jersey. People from all walks of life having been donning sports jerseys in support of Jersey Day. Share your jersey picture and well wishes on Twitter using #JerseysForHumboldt.
  • An indication of the far-reaching effects of this tragedy is the millions of dollars that have been raised worldwide in such a short period for the families of the hockey team. A GoFundMe campaign has been created to raise money for the families and survivors of the crash. No amount of money will take away the pain the survivors and families are facing, but every donation helps ease any potential financial strain they may experience as a result of the crash, and donating can also make you feel good about doing something to support the victims.
  • Become an Organ Donor. If you aren’t already an organ donor, perhaps this event may be your inspiration to become one. Logan Boulet, one of the victims of the crash, will be greatly missed, but his passing means that six other people will live because of his organ donor status. For information on registration, you can visit Service Ontario.

For the survivors, the families of the victims, and the community, I imagine that it is extremely difficult to cope while there are many unanswered questions. As long as the investigation is ongoing, even those outside of the community can relate to the need for closure.

If the Humboldt crash directly affects you or if you relate to it in any way, I encourage you to seek counselling. You are not alone.


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Exam Season: 3 Tips to Lower Your Body’s Stress Level

k-67-dsc045553442545-fon_1-id-68958-jpegAs I’m sure you’re all aware, exam season has commenced. I know from experience that in times of high stress and when exam dates loom, it’s tempting to forgo sleep and easy to forget to eat or hydrate. These are very unhealthy means of studying, and they only add to your stress.

To avoid high stress levels or illness this exam season, I would like to provide you with three tips to take care of your body and reduce your stress level when preparing for exams:

  1. Eat and Drink
    It’s one thing to eat and drink healthily on a regular basis, but during exam season, some students remain so focused on their studies that they forget to eat or drink something at all! Understandably, your focus is your studies, but I implore you to stay hydrated and fed.

    During periods of high stress, I sometimes set hourly alarms on my phone to remind myself to drink water. This may seem silly, but it’s easy to get lost in your head, especially while studying, and ignore what your body needs.

    As for what you eat, it may seem like you don’t have time to cook. You probably don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on take out over the next couple weeks, but you need to eat something. Before exam season is in full swing, pick up a few key items at the grocery store for simple meals, like cereal, salad, and sandwiches. Be sure you are incorporating some nutritious foods such as vegetables and protein. And always keep snacks in your bag, like apples or granola bars, in case you accidently skip a meal.

  2. Exercise
    I’m sure you’ve heard that exercise releases delightful hormones called endorphins, which trigger positive feelings to reduce stress and pain. Luckily, a simple 10-minute walk could be enough to produce several hours of stress relief.

    If you’re an extrovert and hours of secluded studying is worsening your stress, attend a group exercise lesson at your campus or preferred gym. Not only will you be getting exercise, but you’ll also benefit from the additional aspect of socialization, giving you a much-needed break between study sessions.

  3. Rest
    This might be the most difficult tip to follow, since it’s sort of a catch-22. Six to eight hours for a good night’s rest is a lot of time, but the longer you go without sleep in order to study the less you are likely to retain the information. Research shows that recalling information from one day to the next is easier after a night of sleep. However difficult it may be to rationalize, it is important to find a balance between study time and sleep time. You don’t want all of your efforts to be wasted by falling asleep during an exam.

It’s important to remember that you’re not alone in this; all of your fellow students are going through the exact same crazy time. Reach out to your friends and help each other stay sane and healthy during this and future exam seasons. If you require more structured support, reach out to a school counsellor or your Student Assistance Program to assist you with a study plan or exam accommodations. Good luck!


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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.


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Campus life: Are you prepared?

As September draws closer, students all over Canada are preparing for their first year of university or college. Leaving home, new classes, new friends and new activities, it can be a lot to handle. While attending post-secondary school is an exciting chapter in anyone’s life, it can also be a transitional period for students experiencing it all for the first time.

 Student Life

Moving out on your own is exciting and full of opportunities, but at times it can be lonely. Clinical psychologist Dr. Christopher Thurber co-produced a study on homesickness in university students, and found that while all students miss something about home when they’re away, 5-10% of post-secondary students develop intense homesickness, which has an effect on behaviour.

Homesickness isn’t the only threat to first year students’ mental health. Students have to deal with a more demanding curriculum, adapt to new roommates, new classmates and learn how to take care of themselves for the first time ever. I remember the culture shock I experienced during my first few weeks of classes at York University, and that was back when university wasn’t as expensive, programs were less competitive, and moving away from home was not the thing to do!

Students who choose to live at home during post-secondary schooling are not exempt from mental health issues either. While staying home saves students and families from the financial burden of accommodation, it can be challenging to watch friends go off and start a new life while they remain at home with their parents who may still treat them as children.

Mental health issues in universities and colleges are not new. Why do you think Reading Week was introduced? It was created in the 1960s to allow students a reprieve from their demanding curriculum. Since then, mental health issues have grown exponentially. In 2011, Ryerson University’s centre for student development and counselling found that there was a 200% increase in students reporting a crisis situation. I was initially shocked by this statistic, but a Maclean’s report about mental health on campus provided some background on this issue. They found that more students are enrolling in school with previous mental health issues than ever before, and now these existing issues are being intensified.

We developed The Student Assistance Program (affectionately known as SAP) at Aspiria to augment what schools are currently providing to assist students seeking help with their mental heath on campus. Our goal is to help students thrive while at school and build resiliency skills to prepare them for graduation and the workforce

Attending college or university certainly has its challenges for students, but it’s important to remember that the experience is also exciting, rewarding, and will help shape who they become in life.

So how can we help students adjust to their 1st year of college or university ? Here are a number of tips for students on how to stay mentally well:

  • Parents should encourage their children to work summer jobs to create a sense of independence and responsibility they will carry with them to school.
  • If students are moving away for school, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the campus prior to starting classes. This will allow for less of a culture shock when school begins.
  • Join clubs and social groups. Clubs are a great way to meet friends and people who have similar interests. International students can find other students who have recently moved to their campus .
  • Seek help with the school’s counsellors or find out if a SAP is offered. These programs are in place to help students address their mental health issues and are always accessible.

 

1st year on campus can be a difficult adjustment for students. What additional strategies can you think of that can make the transition to campus life easier for students?