The University Record, September 23, 1998

University community mourns the loss of LS&A student

By Jane R. Elgass

The death of LS&A sophomore Chris Giacherio last week plunged the University community into mourning, and rekindled memories of similar tragedies last year.

"The death of a young person always is senseless," said Maureen A. Hartford, vice president for student affairs. "A death related to drug abuse is more senseless. The whole University community is mourning for the Giacherio family.

"The loss of any student always has an extreme impact on us. The fact that Chris was from Ann Arbor and that his father is on the faculty makes it a little closer to home."

Giacherio's father, Donald, is an assistant professor of pathology and director of the Clinical Chemistry Program at the Medical School. His mother, Rose, is a third grade teacher at Eberwhite Elementary School. He also is survived by two sisters, Liana and Lindsey.

Ann Arbor police were called to an apartment on Packard at 11:52 a.m. Sept. 15. The medical examiner and officers from the Detective Bureau responded, finding Giacherio dead at the scene.

According to Lt. Jim Tieman, initial results of an autopsy "are consistent with a drug overdose." Police are awaiting a toxicology report before assigning an official cause of death.

The University has standard operations that are implemented immediately whenever there is a tragedy.

A small group meets to decide on what the best support services will be for the particular incident. Usually, one person from the Office of Student Affairs is assigned to be a single contact point with the family.

The registrar is contacted to determine the classes the student was taking, and faculty are asked if they want to have a counselor on hand in those classes.

Staff in the Dean of Students Office, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and University Housing, where appropriate, are notified. They move quickly to provide counseling wherever they are asked to do so.

They also will help students find space for vigils or other memorial activities, and a counseling room usually is set up near that location for students and others who may need help before, during or after the services.

Hartford and Deborah Kraus, clinical psychologist in CAPS, both hope that Giacherio's death will prompt students using drugs or alcohol to think about their actions.

"We're always concerned about drug abuse, whether it be alcohol or illicit drugs," Hartford said, "and we try to get messages to the students on the dangers of use."

A letter will soon be going out to students about substance abuse, focusing primarily on alcohol because that has been "the drug of choice for our students," Hartford explained.

According to a 1993 survey, when one looks at undergraduates overall, 72 percent of men said they had used alcohol in the past 30 days, 23 percent had used marijuana and 7 percent had used other illicit drugs, such as heroin and cocaine.

"My plea, my hope," Hartford said, "is that Chris's death will be a wakeup call to students using hard drugs, that they will reach out and seek help. These are very addictive drugs. They can contact CAPS or the Health Service, which both offer totally confidential counseling and other assistance, including referral to the Chelsea-Arbor Treatment Center if a student wants to begin treatment."

Kraus noted that if there is possible good to come from Giacherio's death, it would be that students who are using drugs be prompted to seek help. "Substance abuse is a very good thing to talk about to young adults, who assume that bad consequences, including addiction and death, can't happen to them. No one is immune," she said.

"These [cocaine and heroin] are very appealing but very dangerous drugs, and you can die from a single dose. They are more dangerous together, as well as with alcohol. People need to realize that if the 'rush' is that intense, so are the negative consequences."

Kraus also emphasizes the help available through CAPS, which offers a two-session assessment of substance abuse, as well as brief therapy that helps students make changes in their use patterns.

"Students who seek help do so for a number of reasons," Kraus noted, "generally because they have experienced some negative consequence of their use, and often because someone else sent them. First we need to assess their motivation to change and help them toward harm-reduction strategies. We can help guide that decision-making process."

While CAPS is not set up to provide therapy or long-term counseling, staff are able to refer students to individuals or organizations offering that help.

"If you are using drugs or you know someone who is, please consider getting help," Kraus said. "We don't judge and it's completely free and confidential. Come in even if you just have questions. We don't want to see more students die."

CAPS is on the third floor of the Michigan Union and can be reached at 764-8312. Faculty and staff with substance abuse concerns or questions should contact the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program, 936-6350.

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