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Tonero tackles substance misuse

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Audra Tonero sits in her office (Photo by Kelly Joyce Johnson)
Audra Tonero sits in her office (Photo by Kelly Joyce Johnson)

Audra Tonero sits in her office (Photo by Kelly Joyce Johnson)

Audra Tonero, the substance abuse counselor on campus, cleans up messes and she does it well.  Every week, when Drew students are written up or transported due to alcohol or drug-related incidents, Tonero is there to address the concerns.

Tonero is Drew’s Coordinator of Substance Awareness and Educational Programs. She graduated from St. Bonaventure University in New York with a degree in Psychology and then pursued her Masters in Counseling Psychology.  Before Drew, she did some practice as an adolescent counselor, getting some hands-on training with treatment. Tonero said that “I worked through a free standing agency and did a lot of paperwork but also got some training.”

In 2001 she came to Drew, became interested in substance awareness and ended up becoming the substance abuse counselor. “I always knew that I wanted to become a counselor, but I never knew I would end up educating students about alcohol and drugs,” she said. She also works with students who have problems such as eating disorders and depression, but she spends most of her time with students who have drug related issues.

When students are transported because of alcohol or drugs, one of the first things they must do is meet with Tonero. After they are written up and documented, they sit and have a talk with her to address the situation.

“Usually when I meet with students who have been transported, they feel embarrassed or sad,” Tonero said. “They feel like the night has escaped them and like what happened wasn’t meant to happen. They are surprised by the way they drank.”

But there are very positive results from meeting with Tonero. “Once we have met together and addressed the situation, I feel like we’ve both learned something from the incident,” she said. “Usually students don’t meet with me more than once. It all depends on the severity of the report.” One of the things that Tonero mentioned that she loved about her job was being able to reach out to the community. Transport meetings fulfill part of that requirement, but she also works with students who participate in ‘DV8’, the substance abuse club on campus.

“I’m the advisor for DV8. I wrote a petition for a grant a few years back, because I wanted there to be peer education positions on campus and I’m glad that now we have that,” she said. “While the program isn’t funded by the grants now, I’m glad that we have this club on campus.”

DV8, which embraces the motto “deviating from the norm”, is a peer education group that aims to educate the campus about substance abuse through lectures and events that take place throughout the semester. “The group usually tries to give presentations to freshmen in the fall semester during the common hour,” Tonero said.

“The students educate on a variety of topics, but one of the most important is that of ‘bystander intervention.’ This just means that if a friend is in a high risk situation, that they can do something to help them out.”

There are two well known events that take place in the spring that help to bring the community together to address these concerns and other issues. “In the spring we host the student health campaign and our big event during that time is Surf the Crowd,” Tonero said. The student health campaign is supposed to raise awareness of mental health issues.

“For this event, we wear t-shirts that have mental health issues on them like ‘bipolar disorder’ and ‘depression’, and we talk to students about it. We try to get them to ask and not judge others because of their mental illness,” said Maria Falzone (’14), member of DV8.

Surf the Crowd is the big event that really urges students to come out and learn about substance abuse education. “It’s basically an ‘above the influence’ event,” said Falzone. “Last year, Surf the Crowd was music-based, and we asked students to come out and give musical performances. A lot of individual students performed. We also invited guest speakers to come by,” Falzone said. “People who once had alcohol or drug addiction and can leave a good message to college students.”

“I love working with the students of DV8 and with those on campus in general,” Tonero said. “I love that I am able to connect with the campus and allow my clients to see how their behaviors are affecting their lives. That way we can both work together to address the situation and find a solution.”