New strategies and treatments are needed for college students abusing opioids

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Between the president declaring the opioid crisis in America a national emergency and recent legislation, there has been a strong push to address the surge in opiate abuse, addiction, and overdoses across the country. However, a group of experts says there is one group that needs increased focus and intervention.

During a presentation at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry annual meeting, researchers from Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute explained how non-medical opiate use is affecting colleges and urged for new strategies for prevention and treatment among college students.

“The use of opiates by college students has risen dramatically over the past 2 decades, resulting in increased accidental overdose among other things; thus making the quest for identifying strategies to address this public health crisis essential,” Patrice Malone, MD, of Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute, wrote.

For the study, the researchers assessed past and current prevalence, risk factors, and interventions for college students addicted to or abusing opiates by comprehensively reviewing previous research.

The findings suggest that from 1993 to 2005, use of opioids rose over 343% among college students.

The team says approximately one-in-four universities in the US had an annual prescription opioid use rate of 10% or higher.

Malone notes that past studies have established that students who non-medically use opioids are more likely to engage in a wide array of risky behavior and face increased risk of unintentional overdose.

The study showed that students who were white, residents of fraternity or sorority houses, lived off campus, or had lower grade-point averages were most likely to abuse opioids – especially at more competitive colleges.

Recognition of these risk factors in recent years have led to an increase in substance-free housing on college campuses, however, it is unclear whether this strategy is effective in reducing substance abuse among residents.

“Nonmedical use of prescription opiates is second only to marijuana as the most common form of drug use among college students in the United States and is associated with lower school performance and increased risky behavior,” Malone wrote. “Therefore, it is essential to continue developing prevention and treatment strategies aimed at reducing prescription drug abuse and possible escalation to more dangerous forms of opiates (ie, heroin), which increases morbidity and mortality.”

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