Illicit drugs like cocaine and ecstasy are no longer the primary drugs of choice on college campuses. In the past decade, the non-medical use of prescription drugs has skyrocketed among college students. A 2010 survey of approximately 95,000 college students by the American College Health Association revealed that 15% of students admit to using prescription drugs without a prescription.
The types of drugs most commonly abused and the percent of students using them include:
• Pain killers – 9.3% (includes OxyContin and Vicodin)
• Stimulants – 7% (includes Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta)
• Sedatives – 4.5% (includes Xanax, Valium)
• Antidepressants – 3.2% (includes Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil)
Prescription drugs are readily available to college students. According to research from the University of Michigan, most students obtain prescription drugs from family and friends. Another source is physicians who overmedicate minor medical problems. Many student health centers are understaffed, averaging 1 health professional per 2,000 students. Due to time limitations, it’s often easier for a doctor to write a prescription for student health complaints than to spend time conducting medical examinations and tests.
College students abuse prescription drugs for a variety of reasons, not all of which are recreational. These reasons include:
• Staying awake and focusing for study marathons
• Mood enhancement
• Stress management
• Parties and other recreational use
The CBS news program 60 Minutes recently reported that many college students are turning to Adderall and Ritalin to boost their brain power. There is a common perception that these drugs, which were originally developed to treat ADHD, will give a student an academic edge. Both drugs are amphetamines that trigger a release of the chemical dopamine in the brain, making a student feel more alert and focused. However, there is no proof that these drugs will improve a student’s performance on assignments and tests. Most students obtain Adderall and Ritalin from other students who have been diagnosed with ADHD and have legal prescriptions.
There are many risks associated with taking prescription drugs without a prescription, including psychological dependence and addiction. When stimulants are taken repeatedly over a short period of time or in high doses, the side effects may include
- an irregular heart beat
One of the biggest dangers in taking prescription drugs without a prescription is that the warning and dosage information that comes with the drug when it is obtained by prescription is usually not available.
Using Drugs Intranasally and Mixing with Alcohol Can be Deadly
Almost half of the students who abuse prescription drugs ingest the drugs by snorting. Most of them don’t realize that changing the delivery method of a drug can greatly increase the chances of negative side effects. Many students also ignore the danger of mixing alcohol and prescription drugs, especially opiates like Vicodin and OxyContin. When alcohol used in combination with sedative-type drugs, the risk of death from overdose is greatly increased.
For some students, the non-medical use of prescription drugs (especially pain killers) leads to harder street drugs like heroin. With OxyContin costing up to $60 per pill, a $10 dose of heroin is a cheaper alternative. By the time a student begins using heroin, then end of his or her academic career is inevitable and the odds of death by overdose substantially increased.