Heavy partying and heavy drinking are commonly associated with college campuses. A new dangerous health practice among college students has been emerging, prescription drug abuse.
Prescription drug abuse can be loosely defined as the ingestion of a medication that was prescribed to someone else, and not to you, in an effort to gain effects that you would not be able to experience otherwise.
In other words, you need to stay up all night to study for a midterm exam and it's beyond the effects of coffee or energy drinks, so you ask a friend for an Adderall that he is prescribed by his doctor. Taking a pill to help you stay up all night studying isn't something a college kid would think much of.
Another example: a guy in your dorm has a Vicodin prescription for the chronic back pain he's been suffering from since a car accident in middle school. He gives you a pill or two on Sunday night because you need to stop going out to bars so much. You stay in the dorm and take some Vicodin, have a couple, beers, and go to bed fairly early. Again, you don't think much of it. It's safer than spending a night out consuming mass amounts of alcohol, right? Not quite.
Sadly these examples are becoming more common place among college kids. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, believes that one out of every four college students have illegally used a drug that is administered by prescription only. College campuses continue to struggle with how to regulate prescription drug use, but what can the actual school do?
Drugs like Ritalin and Adderall are being used to stay awake for studying purposes. College students who have been diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Disorder, ADD or Adult Attention-Deficit Disorder, ADHD, and who are prescribed stimulants (Ritalin and Adderall) are selling their pills to other students. The college kids who are buying prescription drugs do not have a presciption themselves; there is no doctor recommended reason for these students to be taking these pills, especially in combination with other chemicals. The students just want to be awake enough to study all night for whatever tests or exams are pending.
Study drugs that are stimulants aren't the only prescription drugs that college kids are abusing. Sedative medication like Valium and Xanax, opioid painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin, are some of the more popular prescription drugs that college kids are.
Without being medically-monitored while taking a drug of any sort, someone taking a prescription drug that was not written to him or her risks immediate negative reactions to the drug. What treats symptoms in one person may actually cause adverse symptoms in another person.
SAMHSA also reports that, among all people aged eighteen to twenty-one, full-time college students are twice as likely to abuse stimulant prescription drugs that were not written to them as those who do not attend college or who attend college part-time.
Beyond initial intake, the dangers of illegal prescription drug use can be long term. Simply sampling Adderall or OxyContin can risk serious harmful side effects or even creating a long term addiction.
In addition, many college students are illegally taking prescription drugs while consuming mass amounts of alcohol. If the prescription drug is a pain reliever, like OxyContin or Vicodin, the combination of it with alcohol fully depresses the central nervous system and significantly slows breathing. Many accidental drug deaths are the result of these synergetic combinations: two drugs that have the same effects on the human body, so when combined, they double the negative and potentially fatal physical effects.
Jared Friedman is Quality Improvement Manager at Sovereign Health Of California, a dual diagnosis treatment center providing patients help with substance abuse and mental health issues.