In recent years, there has been a startling increase in opioid addiction among college students. With young individuals already at a higher risk of addiction, it is unsurprising that opioid-addicted students presently make up one of the largest groups of drug abusers nationally.
As a result, colleges across the nation have acted to address the pressing need to implement successful forms of prevention and intervention for their student populations. They have also worked to establish avenues for treatment and recovery.
How Have Our College Students Gotten This Addicted?
The opioid epidemic is a product of the increased availability and accessibility of prescription painkillers and other pharmaceuticals. Healthcare professionals began prescribing these drugs at a higher rate, underestimating their highly addictive nature. Unfortunately, the ability to easily acquire these drugs led to pervasive misuse and dissemination among the public:
- Drugabuse.gov states that between 20 to 30 percent of individuals who are prescribed opioids misuse them at some point. Among those individuals, between 8 to 12 percent will develop a serious opioid disorder.
- Drugabuse.gov also states of those individuals who develop an opioid disorder, between 4 to 12 percent of them transition to other drugs, such as heroin.
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that from July 2016 through September 2017, opioid overdoses increased by 30 percent across 45 states. Most notably, during that time period, overdoses increased a startling 70 percent across the Midwest, and 54 percent in large cities.
Younger populations are no exception to these numbers, and drug use among college students has risen as well. The problem has continued to worsen over the years:
- The U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine reports that a quarter of all colleges and universities reported that at least 10 percent or more of their student population misused opiates.
- The U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine also reported that students who resided off campus or in fraternity or sorority houses, who attended highly competitive schools, or who had lower grade point averages were at a higher risk of developing an addiction to these drugs.
Why Are College Students at Risk of Developing an Opioid Addiction?
The growing rate of drug abuse among college students is correlated to a number of factors:
- Stress. According to Johns Hopkins Student Assistance Program, college students have to juggle schoolwork, jobs, social engagements and extracurricular activities. Many students turn to drugs as a way to manage their busy lifestyles.
- Peer pressure. The U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine reports that those students that might not normally think about trying drugs sometimes are looped into experimenting with them because of peer pressure.
- Heavy course load. The U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine also reports that the high demand for college course loads is often overwhelming to students.
- Curiosity. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that college is often portrayed as the time of your life to experiment while you are still young and don’t yet face “real-life” responsibilities. This stage of self-exploration often includes trying drugs.
How Are Colleges Responding to Opioid-Addicted Students?
The biggest driving force that has resulted in dramatic changes in how colleges and universities have responded to college student drug use has been a shift in attitude toward opioid addiction on campuses. This shift, in addition to increasing pressure by state and local legislators, has encouraged colleges and universities to take bigger steps towards addressing the opioid crisis.
- Increase the availability of treatment and recovery services.
- Implement public health supervision to provide a comprehensive understanding of opioid dependence.
- Provide non-addictive strategies to manage chronic pain or stress.
- Develop overdose prevention practices and provide resources for students to perform safe interventions.
- Establish a culture that supports recovery and educates students on how to aid their peers as they overcome their addiction.
These principals have evolved into hundreds of collegiate recovery programs across the country. For example, Rutgers University’s Recover House is a specialized dorm room where students recovering from addiction can live and socialize together. This housing option is part of the state of New Jersey’s larger objective of offering more sober housing options on college campuses. Schools in New York and Colorado have increased funding to promote prevention education and drug abuse research. Similarly, schools in Maryland offer incoming students classes that educate them about the risks of opioid use and prevention strategies. Other campuses offer their students training and information sessions about opioid use and overdose prevention.
Helping College Students Outside of the Classroom
Efforts to reduce opioid abuse have gone beyond the classroom as well. Many campus convenience stores or health centers offer overdose reversal kits and anti-overdose drugs. Colleges have made great strides in combating opioid addiction with continued education and awareness of the issue, as well as providing their students with options and opportunities specifically designed for opioid-addicted students.
Interested in helping addicted college students?
Here at General Healthcare Resources, we can connect you to a job helping students dealing with an opioid addiction. To find out what drug and alcohol abuse counseling jobs are available for you, please visit our Jobs page to see what’s available in your area or at your local college.