A dozen years sober from drug and alcohol addiction, Jim Sonefeld says he can’t look back in regret.
But the 52-year-old drummer for Hootie and the Blowfish also can’t help but wonder how his six years at the University of South Carolina might have been different if the school had sponsored an on-campus support group for recovering addicts.
USC has “a great existing counseling program for people that have troubles like this,” says Sonefeld, who graduated from the downtown Columbia school in 1989. “But a community is a different thing. ... This is an opportunity for the university to start building a community that’s going to be a healthy part of university life.”
Some 1,350 students at USC – or 4 percent of its student body – could use or need help recovering from drug or alcohol addiction, according to a fall 2016 survey.
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Now, about a dozen luminaries from Columbia’s recovery community – including Sonefeld – are urging USC to start a recovery program that would offer students dealing with addictions a safe harbor on campus. They say they can raise the money for the program themselves, if need be.
USC says it is making progress.
At a meeting Tuesday with the advocates, USC unveiled a five-year budget proposal for the recovery program, including money to hire a part-time graduate assistant to help run it starting this fall.
The meeting was held two weeks after The State newspaper reported on the challenges that students recovering from addiction face navigating life at USC, including their call for a recovery program.
‘This is an opportunity for the university to start building a community that’s going to be a healthy part of university life.’
Jim Sonefeld, Hootie and the Blowfish drummer and USC graduate
Fall 2016 survey identified issues
USC’s proposal, obtained by The State, referenced a fall 2016 study of more than 1,000 self-selected students.
About 2.5 percent of those students said they had been to some form of alcohol or drug treatment.
About 1.7 percent said they are in recovery from addiction, while another 2.4 percent said they had quit drinking or using drugs but did not describe themselves as “in recovery.”
Students in recovery “reported feeling isolated and wanting to feel more connected to each other and the Carolina community,” according to USC’s proposal. “They also report stigmatizing statements from both peers and faculty that indicate a need for education about addiction and recovery across campus.”
USC’s proposal suggests spending $23,500 next fall to start the program, including paying for a graduate assistant. Part of that money also would go to hold sober programs and events, market the recovery program to the student body, and send staff and students to national conferences.
The program’s activities would ramp up each year.
USC proposes hiring a full-time program coordinator by fall 2019. The recovery program’s annual budget would jump to $81,400 that year, then plateau.
A central, on-campus meeting space for the program, envisioned by students and alumni, went unmentioned in the proposal.
USC’s Substance Abuse Prevention and Education office has offered a student-led group called Gamecock Recovery a room within the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center at Assembly and Blossom streets. But those students have seldom, if ever, used it, saying it is too far out of the way.
“That space is not frequently utilized, so it’s unclear whether making additional space available is appropriate at this time,” USC spokesman Jeff Stensland said. “Building space on campus is at a premium.”
‘We can raise the money’
The university is “working toward developing a more robust collegiate recovery program” but has not committed to act on everything in its proposal, Stensland said.
For example, the SAPE office will hire the graduate assistant this fall. Whether the school expands the program and hires a full-time director will depend on student interest and funding, Stensland said.
USC also will include more specific questions in its survey of incoming freshmen this fall “so we can more accurately determine the number of students recovering from drug and alcohol addiction,” he said.
USC, which has an annual budget of more than $1 billion, has said money is tight and expects to pay for any new recovery program primarily with private donations.
‘We can raise the money.’
Tyler Crochet, recovering addict and USC master’s student who has pushed the school to start a recovery program since 2012
At least 88 other colleges have started recovery programs, many of them over the past decade. Last fall, the College of Charleston became the first S.C. school to launch one – using $300,000 in private donations.
The program’s backers say money should not be a problem. They say they can find benefactors within the addiction recovery and USC alumni communities who will want to pay it forward.
“We can raise the money,” said Tyler Crochet, a recovering addict and USC master’s student who has pushed the school to start a program since 2012.
Saving $100,000-plus per student?
USC’s proposal indicates the recovery program could save the school money in the long run.
It cited research showing recovery programs help retain current students who might otherwise drop out or transfer to a school more hospitable to recovering students. The program also could help recruit prospective students in recovery who are seeking a supportive campus environment, the proposal states.
“Meanwhile, each student who leaves USC for alcohol-related reasons or chooses another institution with a (campus recovery program) over USC costs the institution over $112,000” in tuition, fees and per-student state appropriations, the proposal says.
More than money is at stake, Sonefeld said.
“Drug or alcohol recovery has had a lasting stigma attached to it. It’s only in acknowledging it as a university and openly offering solutions that will help save lives, literally.”
USC surveys have found ...
2.5 percent of USC students had been to some form of alcohol or drug treatment
1.7 percent said they are in recovery from addiction
2.4 percent had quit drinking or using drugs but don’t describe themselves as “in recovery”
3 percent of incoming students said they wanted to learn more about alcohol and drug-addiction recovery programs at USC
63 percent of USC freshman drinkers said they had engaged in high-risk drinking in the past two weeks
45 percent of freshmen said they had used a drug other than alcohol during the last two weeks
SOURCE: University of South Carolina’s “Collegiate Recovery Work Group” proposal