As the opioid epidemic generates more national attention, questions have been raised about the incidence of opioid use on college campuses. Kids between the ages of 18 and 25 are the most likely group to abuse prescription drugs, with many able to access them through friends and acquaintances. Although some young adults on college campuses do experiment with or occasionally use these drugs, campuses themselves have not felt the force of the epidemic as strongly. According to an NBC News report, this is because serious drug users often don’t go to college or if they do, they drop out early on. The problem does not usually get heavy attention from school administrators in part because of this relatively lower impact—there is a huge difference between campuses and other communities where opioid addiction and overdose is happening at a much more extreme rate.
The susceptibility of young adults to abuse opioids and the increase in this behavior should absolutely alarm universities all the same. DU itself has felt the blow of this crisis enormously and horribly: a first-year student overdosed on heroin and died on campus at the beginning of this year. The fact that something like this could happen at our school means that more attention must be turned to abuse of these drugs and how this can be addressed by universities, but the larger national discussion will also affect this.
Potential actions on the opioid crisis have been major headlines in the news over the past few weeks, with the president declaring it a public health emergency. Though several steps have been proposed by the Trump administration, such as advertising, non-addictive drug development and treatment availability, this declaration does not automatically allocate federal funds. While some hoped Trump would instead declare a national emergency and make emergency federal funds available through the Stafford Act, this money could also come from an appropriation from Congress. Indeed, Senate Democrats introduced a bill on Oct. 25 which aims to allocate billions to the problem.
Such freeing of funds is going to be essential for large-scale prevention and treatment efforts, and the sooner President Trump realizes this, the sooner relief efforts will grow. Prevention and affordable treatment that is able to decrease harm from rampant opioid use nationwide will improve public health and save lives, and it will also be important for the next classes of college students. Increased addiction support leading to less drug use will help young adults in that 18 to 25 range get to college as well as stay in college, and the spillover effects of this are positive as well. Community support is also essential, and DU should more publicly acknowledge that opioids are abused here. Incorporating opioid considerations into prevention programs and those that help kids stay sober or recover from substance abuse will be a way to act on this more local level. These are ways that DU can address the crisis where it manifests locally, and we can also support a Congressional appropriations bill that would put needed money toward a currently underfunded fight against a major epidemic.