Speaker: We need to change how we talk about substance abuse

Clovis native and professional BMX rider Tony Hoffman spoke at Fresno State last week about his struggles with mental health and drug abuse at a young age. He told the audience about his path to recovery after addiction.

Hoffman also spoke about being homeless and how he spent more than four years in jail and all the things he wanted to do when he got out. It was in jail, he said, when he realized that a stigma follows drug addicts and convicts, with many believing that those on a path to recovery will relapse and be back in jail soon. 

.Motivational speaker Tony Hoffman holds up an empty prescription bottle for Oxycontin as he speaks about the insidious nature of addiction to prescription medication during the “Substance Use” panel held in the North Gym on Feb. 22, 2018. (Ramuel Reyes/The Collegian)

“If this country doesn’t change the way we think about addiction and addicts, then we will never be able to help those in need,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman was the keynote speaker at a forum in which the use of drug substances was the focus. The “Introduction to the Conversation About Substance Use” forum brought speakers and local authorities from the community to talk about the substance use even in places like the Fresno State campus.

Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro opened the forum with a speech calling substance use a serious issue facing Fresno State and the Fresno community. Castro mentioned the recent death of Omar Nemeth, a Fresno State student who was found dead from an accidental overdose on Xanax.

ABC30 news anchor Liz Harrison was the event’s panel moderator. Harrison shared with the audience the story of her son’s struggle with addiction and how it has change her own life.

The panel consisted of Hoffman, Flindt Andersen, former addict and founder of the non-profit Parents and Addicts in Need (P.A.I.N.), Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims and Associated Student Inc. President Blake Zante.

The panelists were asked several questions, but one in particular stood out to the audience – Harrison asked about what drug is used most by college students.

Sheriff Margaret Mims, Flindt Anderson from PAIN, Tony Hoffman and ASI President Blake Zante discuss the many difficult aspects of substance use during the “Substance Use” panel held in the North Gym on Feb. 22, 2018 (Ramuel Reyes/The Collegian)


Adderall and Xanax are the most commonly used drugs among college students, Andersen said, which are often prescribed as safe medication.

In his opinion, Hoffman said pharmaceutical companies have a crucial responsibility in the addiction crisis in the United States.

“The orange [prescription] bottle has the same things the cartels sell, the only difference is the package.” Hoffman said.

Mims said she doesn’t believe in “scare straight” tactics and that people with real-life experiences with drug abuse are important and make an impact. She mentioned that therapy must be part of addiction recovery in order for it to work.

Zante said that there needs to be more awareness on campus about the dangers of drugs.

In the end, Andersen told the audience that addiction is not something that can be cured, that an addict may be able to manage the addiction but may always remain an addict.

Event organizer and director of Wellness Services Alicia Nelson said the event’s goal was to start a discussion on substance abuse and “having this honest open conversations about awareness will impact students.”

She added, “You are not alone, there are many resources on campus and in the community for students.”

Students who are struggling with addiction can contact the Student Health and Counseling Center at 559-278-2734. Students in recovery can also contact Health Promotion and Wellness Services at 559-278-6739 or email to be part of a recovery group.