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Why It's Imperative Colleges Start Talking About Opioid Misuse

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Editor's Note

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction, the following post could be triggering. You can contact SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

I go to college in Cleveland. However, I did not find out this city is actually in the middle of an opioid epidemic until I did a newspaper story for my university on substance abuse later that fall. We went to class, took tests, volunteered at hospitals and attended club meetings. All the while, the epidemic silently raged all around us, and sometimes among us. We need to break the silence. Here’s why:

Opioid abuse is already a problem on many college campuses. According to Campus Drug Prevention559 full-time college students non-medically use prescription pain relievers on any given day. The same site reported that up to 12 percent of college students are misusing opioids. That’s 12 percent of college students who are at an increased risk of dying from an opioid overdose. That’s also 12 percent of college students who might become addicted. That’s 12 percent of all college students who may have to navigate our nation’s dysfunctional mental health infrastructure at a young age.

It’s become such a concerning trend that even the American College Health Association (ACHA) put forth a set of guidelines for colleges to manage the effects of opioid addiction on campus. If the ACHA has identified opioid addiction as a collegiate health issue, colleges should also be concerned, as untreated addiction will have a direct effect on both the campus culture and the student body. The student body holds an important role too — from hosting events aimed at raising awareness to coordinating campus-wide fundraisers, we can do something.

College students are not immune to opioid overdoses. The Wall Street Journal reports in these four schools, students are already dying from overdoses. At the University of Rochester, another student overdosed on opioids and died in 2014. Last year, three students from Washington State University overdosed from opioids and died. A 25-year-old died from an overdose on the potent opioid fentanyl and heroin in a bathroom at Columbus State Community College in Ohio. Just this November, four student deaths at the University of Southern California have also been linked to suspected opioid overdoses.

These deaths are starting to mirror how many are dying from overdoses at an increasingly rapid rate outside college campuses. This parallel suggests opioids still exert a powerful effect on everyone, often unbeknownst to many of us. One study suggests there is a low perception of risk for opioid analgesics like fentanyl and oxycontin. If we continue to neglect opioid overdoses on college campuses, more students will continue to use opioids without being aware of the danger of them. As a result, students may misuse these substances more frequently because they are supposedly “safer” than heroin. Sooner or later, we may run into a full opioid epidemic, in which opioid overdoses claim as many as 130 lives each day. Opioids are claiming the lives of youths who could have had a career and a life ahead of them. Once brimming with potential, many of these students are now dead, and their lives have been cut short by an overdose.

If we are already dying from opioids, it is time administrators recognize this is a problem on many college campuses. We cannot wait until overdoses are taking thousands of college students’ lives annually. At that point, it will be extremely difficult to stop the epidemic. If we recognize opioid abuse is a problem and begin to raise awareness about it, we may be able to stop an impending epidemic from occurring across our nation’s college campuses.

Getty image by RyanKing999

Originally published: January 6, 2020
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