Opioid Use in College Students
College has long been associated with experimentation and partying, and college campuses are no stranger to drug use. However, the popularity of opioids has given rise to a rash of deadly overdoses among college students and others. The opioid crisis gripping the nation is equally likely to affect college students as any other demographic, according to a study ordered by the Hazelden Betty Ford Institute for Recovery Advocacy and the Christie Foundation.
Opioid Use in College Is a Symptom of a Wider Epidemic
People of all ages and walks of life may abuse prescription drugs. The reasons are diverse. Individuals may be self-medicating emotional problems, trying to have fun at parties or use opioids as sleep aids.
On college campuses, affluent students are often at higher risk of abuse due to the cost of obtaining these drugs. Student athletes are at an especially high risk of drug abuse due to their ease of obtaining prescription painkillers to deal with sports injuries and the associated pain of high-contact sports.
Alongside painkillers and other opioid drugs, college students are also more likely than most to abuse stimulants like Adderall. In some cases, students may use stimulants and opioids in tandem first to stay awake for studying or partying, then to fall asleep or relax. This combination of drug effects can be especially dangerous, and this cycle of abuse can swiftly lead to addiction and chemical dependency.
Opioid use in general has increased dramatically over the past decade, and the rising prevalence of these drugs has made them easier for young people to try. One especially dangerous trend is the tendency of drug dealers to lace their product with fentanyl, an extremely potent synthetic opioid. Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine and is responsible for many of the deadly overdoses seen across the country. Opioid overdose was responsible for twice as many deaths among young people in 2015 as in 2005 due in large part to the prevalence of stronger drugs. Even in areas where per capita drug use has gone down, the death rate has increased due to the risk of overdose.
The tendency for college students to combine drug use with excessive alcohol consumption also creates a deadly combination. Alcohol exacerbates the effects of depressants and can leave someone more prone to overdose. It also weakens an individual’s self control and inhibits judgment, which can lead to risk-taking behavior.
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Reversing an Overdose Is Only the First Step
As part of an inititiave to save lifes, campuses throughout the country are training their residence hall assistants, campus healthcare workers and campus police in the use and administration of naloxone. This drug works by blocking opioid receptors in the brain, reversing the effects of an overdose and bringing a drug user into sobriety.
In terms of saving lives, overdose-reversal drugs play an absolutely vital role in fighting the opioid crisis. Opioid use in college and throughout the nation is a symptom of a larger issue, however, and merely preventing death from one instance of overdose is not enough to deal with the bigger problem. Underlying the risk of overdose is the specter of addiction, and only by combating addiction head-on can true progress be made.
The highest rate of first-time opioid use among addicts is in people in their 20s. This makes college the perfect time and place for drug education and prevention programs. Educating students about the risks and realities of addiction and the dangers of drug use may help to curb some of the more dangerous activities. Teaching students about the risks of fentanyl and drug interactions in particular may help to curb some of the more dangerous overdoses and drug reactions.