College Heroin Use is Down; Youth Deaths Are Up

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On university and college campuses, opioid recovery programs are expanding and multiplying, populated by students who have struggled with dependence on Percocet (oxycodone) and Vicodin (hydrocodone), as well as those who have moved on to fentanyl and heroin, which are far cheaper on the street than prescription pills, reports the New York Times. A national survey last year by the University of Michigan found that 7 percent of 870 respondents said they had misused opioid painkillers. For 19- to 22-year-olds who hadn’t gone to college or had dropped out, which is common when struggling with addiction, close to 13 percent said they had misused painkillers.

Sean Esteban McCabe, a Michigan researcher, said misuse is most prevalent on competitive campuses, where students are more affluent and have access to prescribed pills. Athletes in high-contact sports like ice hockey and wrestling, who are often prescribed painkillers, are particularly vulnerable. Campus users tend to be white, live in fraternity or sorority houses, and have lower grade-point averages. Thanks to better prevention education and treatment, heroin use among college students has flattened out, and abuse of painkillers seems to be dropping. A decade ago, 9 percent in the Michigan survey said they had misused drugs within the previous year. This news has not heartened advocates, because the number of deaths has risen. Public health officials blame a black market flooded with dangerous options like fentanyl. Opioid-related deaths among Americans age 24 and under almost doubled from 2005 to 2015, when 3,165 were reported, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The number of opioid-related emergency room visits by young people nearly doubled over five years, from 52 per 100,000 patients to 97 in 2014, says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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