The US is experiencing a brutal opioid epidemic. Tragedies on campuses have put a spotlight on prevention efforts and how those can be implemented in colleges. Although opioid abuse and addiction is relatively rare among college students, prevention initiatives make sense. The June issue of Student Health 101 explores opioids in the age of the opioid epidemic: e.g., what populations are getting hit the hardest, whether overdose can be reversed, how to intervene during a suspected overdose, and how to get treatment for drug abuse and dependency.

The vast majority of students are not using opioids

The use of heroin and illicit use of prescription painkillers is unusual, according to the National College Health Assessment survey (Spring 2016) and other studies. The use of opioid medications declined on campuses from around nine percent in 2003 to three percent in 2015, according to researchers at the University of Michigan (Monitoring the Future). “It appears that college students, at least, are hearing and heeding the warnings about the very considerable dangers of using narcotic drugs,” Dr. Lloyd Johnston, lead investigator, told CBS News in 2016. (In contrast, marijuana use is increasing.)

Why opioid overdose prevention initiatives make sense on campus

The opioid epidemic is notorious for reaching into demographics that were previously considered relatively immune to drug crises. In a recent survey by SH101, 21 percent of respondents said they knew of opioid abuse affecting a friend, family member, or acquaintance. An additional 16 percent suspected it.

Young adults are a key demographic for intervention. Nine out of ten drug addictions begin in the teen and young adult years. Students who become addicted to opioids appear to be treatable in college counseling centers, a small 2012 study in the Journal of Addiction Medicine suggests. “The good news is we can intervene early in their addiction,” said lead investigator Dr. Peter DeMaria of Temple University School of Medicine (quoted in DrugFree.org, 2014).

5 keys to preventing opioid overdoses on campus:

  • Education about overdose reversal In our survey, one in three students who responded did not know that opioid overdoses can be reversed with timely medical treatment.
  • Education about addiction treatment “The challenge is [college students’] level of denial is higher, and their willingness to connect with services is less,” said Dr. DeMaria. “[T]hey think the problem is cured, and they don’t want to continue treatment. They don’t want to go to counseling or 12-step meetings.”
  • Medical amnesty Campus policies should address medical amnesty (also known as Good Samaritan or 911 protection). Students should know they can report and intervene in possible drug overdoses and not be subject to disciplinary action related to alcohol or drug use.
  • Overdose intervention training Opioid overdose prevention efforts should include campus security departments, health services, RAs, and other key staff, students, and faculty. Basic community-wide training should cover the signs of an opioid overdose, effective responses, and knowledge of naloxone.
  • Access to naloxone Consider training campus security departments and other key staff in administering naloxone (opioid overdose reversal treatment) and equipping them with naloxone kits.

+ Read the full article:
Opioid epidemic: What it looks like, what it means, & what to do

+ Training college communities: GetNaloxoneNow.org

+ Opioid overdose prevention on college campuses: Journal of Drug Abuse