Prescription drug abuse is the nation’s fastest growing drug problem. More people in the US died last year of drug overdoses than died in car accidents, making prescription drug abuse the third leading cause of accidental death. In the last 20 years, the consumption of prescription stimulants increased from 5 million to 45 million. In the US, one person dies every 19 minutes from a drug overdose, and overdoses involving prescription painkillers now kill more Americans than those involving heroin and cocaine combined.
This epidemic has been particularly widespread on college campuses. Between 1993 and 2005, the proportion of college students using prescription drugs went up dramatically: use of opioids such as Vicodin, Oxycontin, and Percocet increased by 343 percent, and use of stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall increased by 93 percent.
Because the tragedy disproportionately affects college students, the Clinton Foundation launched a campaign to ask college newspapers to join us in raising awareness about prescription drug misuse. Campus publications from across the country ran feature pieces, op-eds, and editorials about this important issue. As the excerpts below demonstrate, despite the many differences between the schools—size, location, demographics—they all found that prescription drug use is on the rise.
Prescription drug abuse is a national issue. Nationwide, deaths from accidental overdoses of painkillers have quadrupled since 1999 and now outnumber those from heroin and cocaine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
“One misconception among students is that prescription drugs are "safer" than illegal narcotics; however, that is simply not the case, as evidenced by the staggering increase in prescription drug-related deaths,” Serafini said. “It is important for students to understand the large risks associated with misusing prescription drugs and make decisions based on risk reduction and personal responsibility for one's actions.”
As finals week approaches, students will be looking to get whatever help they can to pass their classes, even if this help won’t really benefit them in the long run.
For some students, the answer may be turning to prescription drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin to get the extra hour of studying done. That isn’t going to solve your problems, though.
According to an ongoing study at the University of Maryland, 10.8 percent of students nationwide have used prescription stimulants in nonmedical situations over the past year and 35.6 percent of students surveyed have used them at least once in their lifetime.
A final looming five hours in the future, Miami student Alex tries to surrender to his studying. But pages of textbook and notes splayed on his desk provide nothing more than anxiety for him and his reeling mind. He scratches his neck, looks to the ceiling and opens the bottom drawer of his desk. There he finds his kind of sanctuary, his escape.
He reaches over and selects two: Xanax and Adderall pills fall to his palm, and make a swift journey to his mouth, down his throat and settling in his belly. With a sigh, he feels the calming effects within moments.
Not long ago, this was more than just a habit for Alex, whose name has been changed to protect patient confidentiality. This was an addiction. An addiction that he now treats each month.
His addiction is reflective of an alarming, but little-known trend.
Our war on drugs is shifting from street corners to pharmacy counters, and naloxone is fighting on the front lines. Prescription drug abuse now steals more American lives than heroin and cocaine combined, and young people are among the most common victims. According to research published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, 50 percent of college students are offered a prescription drug for nonmedical purposes by their sophomore year. Prescription painkillers, or opioids, are rapidly becoming the drug of choice — 12 percent of college students report having misused a prescription opioid in their lifetime. Studies suggest that abuse of prescription opioids is most prevalent among highly selective urban colleges in the Northeast. Does that kind of school sound familiar?
As prescription opioid misuse has become increasingly common, sadly, so have its gravest side effects. Since 1991, fatal overdoses from prescription painkillers have more than tripled, with young people misusing opioids at the highest rates. Naloxone blocks even the most powerful prescription opioids from binding to their receptors, reversing the effects of overdose and saving patients’ lives.
And these drugs are readily available. According to an article in the Journal of Addictive Diseases, a study of 81 college students with ADHD revealed that an alarming 62 percent diverted the medication to someone without a prescription. The legality of medication diversion is rarely discussed during these transactions.
The adverse effects of these medications aren’t told either. Prescription stimulant users can experience anxiety, depression, loss of appetite, insomnia, seizures and more. These medicines are potentially dangerous and require the attention of a qualified physician.
Prescription stimulants should only be used by those with a true need and not by individuals looking for an easy way out of studying for a big test.
Students without prescriptions also said it is not difficult to acquire the pills.
Taylor Bentley, a senior strategic communication major, said a lot of her friends use ADD drugs.
“I would say 50 percent of my friends take it,” she said.
She said her friends take the drugs primarily to help them study, but that some of them have also taken it recreationally on occasion.
On this campus, I have heard students both joke about and seriously tell their friends that they take drugs like Adderall to help them study. This problem exists at DU. It is a serious issue that people all over America face, but one that college students should particularly pay attention to and should work to address. When I have heard these students talking, it doesn’t seem like they fully understand the consequences of the drug misuse.
I understand that prescription drugs when used as directed by a medical doctor can be beneficial, but I have seen the result of prescription drug abuse in my family and I know the horror, anguish and heartbreak it can bring. No family should have to go through that pain of seeing a loved one suffer. With that in mind, I call for three things: I urge DU’s administration to speak about this issue more publicly and to work to solve it; I ask that anyone reading this that is going through a prescription drug problem to go seek help for yourself and your family; and finally, I hope that people will help support the Clinton Foundation in its courageous efforts to alleviate this problem.
At times, students will make the risky decision to use prescription drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin to stay awake, which is not the drugs’ intended purpose.
“With the increase we’re seeing in prescription drug abuse and students sharing their prescription drugs, specifically the ones that are utilized to help students stay awake and alert, (sleep deprivation) is becoming more and more common unfortunately,” Pratt said. “Everybody reacts very differently to prescription drugs, especially if you’ve never had that medication before. You don’t know how your body is going to react. Even with those who’ve had that medication before, it doesn’t mean their body is going to react the same every time.”
On Tuesday, January 14, President Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, and leading health and wellness experts will come together for the Clinton Foundation’s third annual Health Matters: Activating Wellness in Every Generation conference. This conference will showcase what leaders from across sectors – business, technology, sports and philanthropy – are doing to contribute to the health and wellness of people throughout the United States. Tune in for the Mental Health & Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Panel at 11:00 am PT / 2:00 pm ET to hear more about this growing epidemic and action that is being taken to address the issue and submit your questions for the panel via Twitter and Facebook by using the official conference hashtag #HealthMatters2014. View the full conference agenda and RSVP to watch the live webcast.