Prescription Drug Abuse Plaguing American Campuses
> 3/19/2007 8:04:17 AM

Those who believe that substance abuse among our college studentshas subsided or leveled off in the last decade need to reconsider theirpositions in light of a new, extensive studyreleased by Columbia University's National Center on Addiction andSubstance Abuse. The harrowing numbers: 49 percent of surveyed collegestudents admitted to binge drinking or abusing substances both legaland illicit. The fact that almost one in four qualified as sufferingfrom a dependence on one or more of these drugs implies that the actualnumbers may be even higher.

While the abuse of more commonlyacknowledged drugs like cocaine and marijuana has not seen significantincreases in recent years, the number of students using prescriptiondrugs for recreational purposes has risen exponentially. For example,the presence of the powerful pain killer Oxycontin at American schoolsmore than tripled in the years from 1993 to 2005. The fact that over 3percent of all students reported taking drugs that can be extremely dangerousand highly addictive when not used in a proper medical context leadsone to believe that such substances have begun to make their way intothe mainstream on our college campuses. The rates of abuse forstimulants like Adderall and Ritalin doubled over the same period, andthese drugs are often used not to attain a pleasurable high but to aidin late-night study sessions. And innocent academic aids can quickly turn into debilitating addictions.

According to the new study's authors,our central area of concern is not a steep rise in the number ofstudents who drink and drug on a regular basis but the frequency andintensity of their indulgences. The number of montly incidents reportedby students who binge drink rose significantly during the period inquestion. So how   have so many underestimated the scope of thisepidemic? Previous surveys indicatethat parents are often very naive regarding the drug habits of theirteenagers, and while school administrators generally have better-informed views on the issue, many clearly do not appreciate theprevalence of addiction on their campuses. How can concerned partiesrespond to the issue? Columbia's list of suggestionsfor administrators, professors and parents anxious to address theepidemic, is constructive but very general. Of course, students shouldbe made more aware of the dangers inherent in using these substances,especially on a habitual basis.  They need to understand that drugslike alcohol, prescribed stimulants and synthetic opiates are in no waysafer or more acceptable than their illicit brethren.  Underagedrinking in particular has long been the standard for college studentsaround the country, and the chances of reversing that trend aredepressingly slim. Anonymous surveys, though hardly a solution to theproblem, are crucial tools for assessment and public education, and weneed to highlight more eye-opening stories like this one so that theaverage American can better understand the scope of this epidemic andthe significant risks involved.

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