Members of the House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee on Wednesday discussed programs to help recovering students on college campuses.
The meeting had its share of tears, as Chairman State Rep. Eric Bedingfield, R-Belton, opened with the admission that Wednesday would have been his son Josh’s birthday. Josh, died from an overdose in 2016.
“His daughters will be letting balloons go. That’s their way of giving him gifts, so I’m looking forward to that and appreciate all of you indulging me if I take a moment or two to be choked up from time to time today, although I’ll work very hard not to,” the chairman said.
The committee heard a presentation from faculty operating a recovery program at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. Michael Polacek, who now works for the program, said it saved his academic future.
“That was the worst place in my life,” he said of the time he returned to Kennesaw State after trying recovery programs and knowing he would be tempted by his fellow dealers and users. “Are we doing what we can in higher education to support these students who not only are coming to university, who are in recovery coming to programs, but also finding recovery in universities across the country?”
“No student should ever have to choose — a student recovering should ever have to choose between recovery and education. Because we are taught, as people in recovery, that recovery comes first.”
Speakers told the committee college campuses are “a hostile environment for recovery.”
The panel also heard from a man whose son died of an overdose while a student at the University of South Carolina.
“How can we help save other kids’ lives?” Bruce Loveless asked. “I wish I knew now what I didn’t know then and my son would still be alive. This is just his way of speaking. I’m speaking for him.”
Loveless has developed a nonprofit in his son’s name and hopes to get funding for recovery programs at schools across the state.
The group also heard from representatives from the National Conference of State Legislatures, who produced an opioid abuse study called Overview of State Opioid Policy. Representatives explained various policies and laws addressing the opioid abuse crisis in other states and their effectiveness.
The committee discussed possible legislative options for dealing with opioid abuse in South Carolina, including funding for treatment programs, licensing of counselors and offering expungement of criminal records for some people in recovery.