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As Opioids Abuse Increase, SNC Remain Viglant

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SNC Student Affairs Director Lizzie Thibodeau

SNC Student Affairs Director Lizzie Thibodeau

Photo Credit Nick Kearney

Photo Credit Nick Kearney

SNC Student Affairs Director Lizzie Thibodeau

Opioid abuse has skyrocketed in the United States, claiming the lives of more than 32,000 people in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC reported that the overdose rate among teens has doubled between 1999 and 2015. In 2015 there were 772 deaths among those 15 to 19 years of age.

The opioid epidemic has ravaged communities around the nation, with deaths from overdose outnumbering deaths from car crashes. The alarming trend prompted President Donald Trump to establish a federal task force, and on Oct. 26, to declare a public health emergency.

What are opioids?

Opioids include prescription painkillers like codeine, Vicodin, and Oxycontin, as well as illicit drugs like heroin and the synthetic opioid fentanyl. These drugs bind to pleasure receptors in the brain and can be highly addictive.

While opioids are typically prescribed for pain management, they also activate pleasure centers of the brain, and can be highly addictive. When used in excess, they can slow down respiration and, in extreme cases of overdose – especially when mixed with alcohol – they can halt breathing altogether.

Despite the urgency of the problem, little data exists on opioid abuse among college students.
A 2015 survey of students at eight colleges and universities conducted by Ohio State University found that one in 10 undergraduates had used prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons. In addition, 68 percent of respondents said they had intentionally misused these drugs on more than one occasion, with 13 percent reporting doing so at least 40 times.

It is not surprising that the number of opioid-related emergency room visits by young people also nearly doubled over five years, from 52 per 100,000 patients in 2009, to 97 in 2014, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Joseph Lee, medical director for youth services at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, says that students act as mixologists, creating dangerous drug and alcohol cocktails for themselves and friends. “They are alarmingly familiar with what they can do to get high, but not the danger,” he said.

It should not be a surprise that today’s 20-somethings have developed a taste for prescription pill cocktails. The National Survey on Drug and Health in 2015 found that 119 million Americans, 12 and older, take prescription painkillers, tranquilizers, sedatives or, increasingly among children and young adults, stimulants like Adderall. That is nearly half the population of the country.

Painkillers, in particular, have surged. The sale of opioids quadrupled between 1999 and 2010, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. By 2012, doctors were writing 259 million opioid prescriptions a year, enough for every American adult to have his or her own bottle. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has been encouraging doctors to hand out these addictive drugs more judicially.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the co-director of Opioid Policy Research at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and management, describes this drug surge as “a pill for everything culture,” which he says has significantly affected how young people feel about prescription pills when they go off to college.

“Today, if you grow up in a home where pills are used for every little problem,” he said, “you are likely to leave for college with a lot less fear about them.”

Nationally, more students are seeking treatment. Last year about one in two patients at the Minnesota youth treatment center of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation were being treated for opioid addiction. In 2010, one in six were seeking treatment. Also, the number of opioid-related claims for coverage by Blue Cross Blue Shield has almost doubled since 2010 for college-age patients.

Jessica Higgs, MD, a physician at Bradley University, says she doesn’t think college students are that different from the general population.

“Most people caught up with this epidemic did so by accident, either because of prescription pain medication or experimenting with other drugs that led to opioids, which may have been cheaper or more accessible,” she says. Higgs believes an important factor in battling the opioid crisis is educating students about the reality of addiction with these drugs.

Forrest Hasbrouck, a senior ski business and resort/global management major at Sierra Nevada College, had a couple of high school classmates back in Michigan fall into the drug scene. He believes education about this issue is very important.

“Raise awareness about it, and be very honest about the effects and negative aspects surrounding it,” he said. “And you have to do that at a younger age than people realize.” Sam McChesney, a sophomore finance, economics and ski business major, is very aware of the opioid epidemic.

“The opioid epidemic is a big problem back where I live in Vermont, but I have not really seen it at all here at SNC,” he said.

McChesney says he believes the entire issue begins with prescription painkillers. “Stronger regulations are needed when it comes to prescription pain killers. It is so easy to become addicted, and head down the path to harder drugs.”

Many in the country are challenging the manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioid drugs to accept responsibility for their role in the nation’s opioid epidemic. On Jan. 24, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city is pursuing legal action against these manufacturers as part of a national campaign that seeks to make these companies share accountability for this epidemic.

Yulisa Mendez, a junior psychology major at SNC, agrees that this epidemic has a lot to do with the pharmaceutical companies.

“These companies are making a lot of money,” she said. “The more readily available these drugs are the more money they make, and this has contributed to the abuse we are seeing.”

Director of Student Affairs and Housing Lizzie Thibodeau is a strong advocate for bringing awareness and education to the student body here at SNC.

“A big part of what we do in student affairs is strive to educate students on the pit falls of substance abuse,” she said.

Thibodeau says that SNC staff initiates campaigns that bring awareness to students on a variety of substance abuse topics from alcohol to hard drugs, efforts like the placement of table tents in the cafeteria to provide students with the facts relating to the dangers of combining substances.
“I just put out information on the hazard of mixing Xanax and alcohol, which can be a deadly combination,” she said.

Students new to the area are also made aware of the negative impact drinking alcohol at this elevation can have on their brains and physiology.

Thibodeau says she believes focusing on bringing awareness about the serious risks of substance abuse to the SNC student body is bearing fruit.

“We have a different culture on our campus when it comes to alcohol and drugs,” she said. “Fortunately, the use of opioids is not the issue here at SNC it has become in other parts of the country.”

Thibodeau says being a small community affords SNC the opportunity to open a dialogue with individual students in the hope of not only sharing the consequences of substance abuse with students, but also addressing their questions and concerns.

“I believe talking about these important issues in an open and free environment has been an important part in educating our students,” she said.

Photo Credit Nick Kearney
SNC Student Forrest Hasbrouck

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As Opioids Abuse Increase, SNC Remain Viglant