Growing up in Galesburg, senior Joey Peterson believed Knox College was the greener side of the Galesburg pasture. Peterson had watched the national drug epidemic hit their community hard, especially with the introduction of drugs such as opiates and ice meth. They were surprised to learn that fellow Knox students were also dealing with addiction problems.
Peterson found it difficult to remain optimistic about Galesburg’s future after seeing the effects of the drug crisis in their home city. When they got to Knox, they had the perception that most kids were doing drugs recreationally. However, they noticed some students silently struggling with drug abuse.
When asked if she believes there has been an increase of drugs on campus since the opiate epidemic, Dean of Students Deb Southern did not think so.
“Is there an increase? I’d say no, but if you asked if we were isolated from those drugs I’d also say no,” Southern said.
Southern recognizes that drugs in the Galesburg community sometimes filter into the Knox community. Similarly, Director of Campus Safety Mark Welker does not think there have been many instances of hard drug use at Knox.
“We don’t run into a lot of, what I’ll refer to as hard drugs … Is it here? Maybe, I can’t sit here and say it’s not,” Welker said. “We don’t deal with that in any kind of routine basis and if we did we’d be working with the dean’s office immediately.”
Though Welker believes there is not a high rate of hard drugs on campus, there have been instances where Campus Safety has found them on campus. On Oct. 16, 2016, Campus Safety called the Galesburg Police Department (GPD) after finding a bag of drugs near the Seymour loading dock. Three Hydrocodone/Acetaminophen pills and two white pills identified as Hydrocodone/Ibuprofen were found. There was also a jewelry-sized bag filled with what appeared to be the “ice” version of methamphetamine.
According to Campus Safety Officer Nathan Kemp there was another incident in 2017 where a bag of what appeared to be ice meth was found by the GPD near campus. The origins of the bags were not identified.
On Feb. 13, 2019, the GPD responded to a student who believed he was overdosing on cocaine. According to the report written by GPD officer Kyle Winbigler, the student shared that his heart was racing and that he was unable to sleep. The student was then taken to Cottage Hospital.
“[Hard drugs] may work [their] way through the Knox campus at times, but I don’t think we have a systemic problem with those kinds of drugs at Knox College,” Welker said.
Welker said that Campus Safety has sent out bulletins regarding drug concerns in the past. On May 10, 2018, Campus Safety sent out a campus-wide email regarding synthetic cannabis found in the area. According to Campus Safety Officer Daniel Robinson, the bulletin was sent out due to reported deaths caused by the usage of synthetic drugs.
“Some schools they become so worried about, ‘If we put this out there people will think we’ll have a problem.’ We’re prepared to say that we don’t have a systemic problem here, but we’re putting it out because there could be one student and that’s all it takes to be seriously injured or killed,” Welker said.
National Drug Issues:
Senior and psychology major Justin Bell explained that the drug crisis often refers to the over-prescription of opiates by doctors. During his time at Knox, Bell has researched reducing the harms of drugs in classes and independent studies with Assistant Professor of Psychology Andy Hertel.
According to the Mayo Clinic the opiate epidemic started 30 years ago. During the ‘80s there was a rise in prescriptions for opiates such as oxycodone for patients who were in pain. According to Bell, after a government crackdown on prescriptions, many patients turned to heroin as a substitute for their prescription pain medication.
“Drug overdose deaths for heroin have been rising. It may be less than what we think for an epidemic … but still the fact that it’s rising is alarming,” Bell said.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug overdose deaths went from 16,849 in 1999 to 70,237 in 2017. Bell explained that it was undeniable that death rates had gone up, but pointed out that most of these deaths were related to heroin mixed with drugs like fentanyl, a powerful opioid.
Bell found in his research that Galesburg also had an increase of overdose-related deaths in 2017. According to an article in the Register-Mail, overdose deaths in seven counties in Central Illinois jumped from 27 in 2013 to 48 in 2017, a 78 percent increase.
“In regards to the Galesburg community, the good news is that fatal drug overdoses are actually down. There was a bad spot in 2018 and 2017 where there was a surge in overdoses. One of the other biggest problems that’s affecting Galesburg … is that meth is a huge problem here too,” Bell said.
Accounts of drug usage at Knox:
Peterson believes that the drug epidemic in Galesburg finds its way onto the Knox campus. When Peterson noticed a friend using a prescription pain medication, they wondered whether the friend had a dependency on the prescription.
“They slowly filled me in that they take pain medication for a nerve disorder they had. And me just checking in myself, I would question them about it. Eventually they said they don’t just use pain medication for pain or nerves, they like getting high,” Peterson said.
Peterson is not the only Knox student to encounter substance abuse at Knox. Junior and RA Liam Wholihan has also seen peers struggle with their addiction problems. Similarly freshman Elleri Scriver has watched friends deal with substance abuse problems, while also dealing with his own alcohol addiction. In addition, a third student who wished to remain anonymous shared their experience with an addiction to Adderall and other stimulants.
For the source, they struggled with an Adderall problem during their freshman year. The source, who is 5’11 was so heavily affected by their use that their weight went down to 116 pounds. They felt like they had nowhere to turn to get help for their addiction. Despite speaking to a counselor, they felt the meetings had brushed over their drug use.
“I would mention the stuff I would use. She would be like ‘oh okay’ and maybe she asked if I have a problem, but she never really recommended anything. She didn’t know how serious it was,” the source said.
Wholihan’s family also struggled with addiction issues while he was growing up. He recalled that there was plenty of substances to go around in his household. However, the local AA chapter nearby was a safe haven for his family. When Wholihan got to Knox, he was surprised to learn that there was not a group on campus dedicated to helping students with substance abuse problems.
Southern shared that students are referred to local AA and Counseling Services when they come to the college with their addiction problem. However according to Wholihan, the relationship Knox has to the local AA has been strained after a student allegedly came to AA for a project instead of for help. Southern stated that she also had anecdotally heard of students having issues at the local AA as well.
“After hearing that I tried to start my own AA here my freshman year. I noticed there wasn’t a community at all … [The local AA] was supportive and they gave me literature. They did caution me that the administration might be resistant,” Wholihan said. “And that was my experience.”
According to Wholihan, the administration told him that he’d have to get certified through Knox. The process was too expensive for Wholihan to be able to certify himself without financial support. Wholihan was unable to start the group.
Scriver believes that beyond freshman orientation, drug use is something that is rarely discussed. He also believes the lack of resources the school has is unacceptable and keeps students unsafe.
“Recovery and group therapy are not the only resources for addiction. It’s also needle exchanges, it’s having confidential services. Even having a dialogue open about this,” Scriver said.
Southern believes that there is more that the school could do to help students with their addiction problem and hopes to implement new programs that can help students with substance issues.
“I would say that we could and should do a better job,” Southern said.