Substance Education Week: Panelists Focus on Prevention and Not Punishment for Substance Use

In honor of National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, Abby Heppelmann ’23, Co-President of Students in Medicine, hosted a speaker panel about substance education on campus. Panel speakers included Rayanrd Kington, Head of School, Amy Patel, Dean of Health and Wellness, Susan Esty, Dean of Students and Residential Life, Nigel Savage ’23, Andover’s 2022-2023 Student Body Co-President, and Kelly Bu ’23.

The event was part of Substance Education Week, a student-led initiative to spread awareness about substance use. The week was organized by Students in Medicine in collaboration with the Student Wellness Collaborative and the Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center. According to Heppelmann, the idea came from a desire to raise awareness and start conversations around substance use, aiming to combat the dearth of substance education on campus.

“On campus, we mainly see substance education in three main spots. It’s 20 minutes in [Biology] 100 if you’re lucky, a huge chunk in PE Lower year, and it really doesn’t get talked about again until the Sanctuary Policy and Community Standards Councils, [which are] mostly disciplinary. We just wanted to provide more programming for students who largely don’t need help right away, and want them to know about all the resources they have on campus and open lines of communication between adults and students,” said Heppelmann.

Administrative members on the panel echoed this sentiment. Kington noted that the school will shift their approach from punitive to medical, striving to view substance use as a health subject as opposed to a behavioral one. He reminded students of the school’s efforts to support their future and well-being.

“Every student worked to get here, and what unites all of you is that you all care about your futures. That’s what this is about. It’s about making sure that you have the best chance to do all the things that you want to do in your lives. So I encourage you to think about that and slow down. We care about your futures, too. That’s the only reason why we’re as involved and committed to [this] business as we are,” said Kington.

Savage highlighted the importance of prevention instead of only treating the aftereffects of substance use. He expressed appreciation for the event and hopes that further education can be provided through other outlets. 

“My mom [has] this saying where she says, ‘One ounce of prevention is better than a million pounds of cure.’ Based on that, I think if we do a really good job [with substance education by] having this panel and other things that push prevention, then we don’t have to deal with the cure and the things that come after. So I think just hitting those things is probably the most important. And that is the public health way of doing things, which I think is probably the most effective [way of] trying to prevent something from happening rather than retroactively fixing an issue,” said Savage.

Through this event, Bu invited students to think beyond the traditional definition of substances. Pointing to caffeine as one example, she noted the increased student reliance on substance and its potential medical repercussions.

“There’s just a lot of culture around, ‘Oh, hey, I need my coffee. I’m not normal unless I have my coffee.’ For us, our brains aren’t fully developed, and yet we’re consuming such high levels of caffeine because we feel like, one, we’re not getting enough sleep, and two, we need this high energy to get through the day. But when we think of Celsius and Redbull, those highly [caffeinated] energy drinks, kids are like, ‘My heart is beating like crazy, but I need it in order to get through the day’. I think that’s when it becomes a safety issue, because people are experiencing heart palpitations,” said Bu.

Tasha Bohorad ’26, who attended the panel, appreciated their focus on the prevention of substance use instead of its repercussions. She expressed interest in attending other panels and hopes that there are more student-involved events related to substance awareness in the future.

“I’m really glad they’re hosting this panel because I know a lot of public high schools did Substance Awareness Week and spirit days, but we wouldn’t really do any educational things or things that really involved the students to prevent or stop substance use. I definitely would come to another panel, since it was really educational and I definitely learned a lot from these events,” said Bohorad.