As the recreational use of prescription drugs rises in popularity across college campuses, Suarez investigates the root of the addictive, and often lethal, trend.
We are all aware of the dangers of marijuana, alcohol and tobacco products that lurk among every college campus. However, there is an even darker, and more lethal epidemic carousing its way across campuses: prescription drugs—and they’re legal.
Drugs such as painkillers, anti-anxiety pills, adderall, and anti-depressants, are having an adverse affect on the students who need them. In 2009 alone more students died from overdosing than car accidents, and the numbers keep growing.
Why is this pandemic occurring across the country, particularly with students? I sat down with Sam Carver, a substance abuse counselor at Rollins College Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), who provided insightful commentary into the ever- increasing drug problem that has arisen across America and its college campuses.
Q: Why do you believe that prescription drug related deaths are booming across America today?
A: Drugs are obviously being abused: they are being handed out way to easily. In 2009 there were more pain management clinics then there were McDonald’s in Florida, which is a really scary thing if you think about it because all those clinics are giving out massive amounts of pain medications. It’s really easy to get them, but once people start doing them they are very addictive. It’s like anything else, that over time you end
up building a tolerance. Then people start mixing them with other drugs or alcohol, which can make medication even more deadly.
Q: People often refer to these types of medications as “downers.” What does that mean exactly?
A: “Downers” slow down your basic nervous system, which, when paired with alcohol— which is also a downer— does the same thing. When people overdose, their central nervous slows down to a point where your brain, heart and breathing just stops. It’s very easy to happen when you’re mixing medications with other things.
Q: Why do you think doctors are writing more prescriptions than they did in the 90’s?
A: I think part of it’s the popularity of it, knowing what to say to doctors such as “Oh, I have a really bad pain in my back.” People know what to say because they’re doctor shopping, trying to find someone to write them prescriptions, and if that person won’t, they’ll find someone else that will. This has become so easy because there are so many doctors who are writing these prescriptions. The doctors know that these prescriptions work but they never tell people about the precautions of how addictive they are and what can happen. There’s just not enough education there.
Q: Why do you think there is a growing rate of students on campuses who need prescriptions for things like anxiety and depression?
A: I think people are now more comfortable saying that they have these problems. A lot of these students legitimately need them and these prescriptions are helpful for them. Antidepressants don’t have those “feeling high effects,” so those aren’t something people usually become addicted to, although they can become dependent on them and need them to sustain the effects of feeling better. Antianxiety medications can be addictive because those produce feelings of euphoria and they calm people down. Again, there are people who need these prescriptions, and there are others who know what to say to get them.
Q: Are there any aspects of campus life that might be encouraging the need for these medications?
A: I think the transition from high school to college and all the different stressors: trying to manage working and school, or even just going to school itself is very stressful. These students are encountering more stress than they ever have before. There are a lot of different reasons.
Q: What do you think should be done to curb the rate of student addiction to prescriptions?
A: I think it should be harder to get them. I think doctors should spend more time with their patients because a lot of the time with these doctors, you go in, spend ten minutes with them and they’re prepared to write you a prescription. Since these doctors are the ones who
are prescribing these medications, the change really needs to start with them. These doctors could have their patients see a counselor so they can become educated about what medications can do and why they’re feeling this way. I do think these medications should be a last resort/ option. Doctors need to be more stringent and ask more questions.
Q: What other options do you suggest?
A: Other options could be counseling and lifestyle changes if we were talking about dealing with anxiety and depression. If you’re talking about pain medication, obviously going to counseling may not cure your physical pain, but trying over the counter drugs first or starting patients out on really small dosages could be better alternatives. Acupuncture, the chiropractor and seeing a masseuse can help with pain as well. As Samantha Carver says, there are people who do need these prescriptions to help cope with everyday problems that seem unmanageable. However, when it comes to handing out medication like it is candy, there comes a point where we need to ask ourselves: How much will it be before we’re pushed to the edge of dependency, addiction, and possibly, even death?