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Drugs and Alcohol

The Opioid Epidemic Moves to College Campuses

By September 23, 2019April 6th, 2022No Comments

Every day, there seems to be a new, heartbreaking story of someone who has lost their battle with drug addiction. Among these fatal addictions, the high prevalence of opioid overdoses are hard to ignore. Opioids are the fastest growing and hardest hitting drug problem, because they are one of the most highly addictive substances known to man as well as one of the hardest to recover from. In recent years, the usage of opiates increased significantly amongst college students. In a nationally released survey taken in March 2018, the ACPA foundation found that 1 in 4 college students have some sort of drug addiction, and that rates of substance abuse and addiction are higher amongst college students than for the rest of the population. Opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin, synthetic opioids like fentanyl, and prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine. Abuse of opioids can cause a myriad of short and long-term complications, including sedation, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and respiratory depression. Physical dependence, addiction, and the high risk of overdosing are amongst the long term—and most serious—effects of opioids.

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), from 1993 to 2005, prescription opioid abuse has increased by 343% among college students. This has serious ramifications. Studies have shown that college students who are already abusing opioids are significantly more likely to engage in other risky behaviors that may lead to an overdose. Even just struggling with this massive addiction has devastating effects for the abuser and their loved ones.

While any student can abuse opioids, nonmedical opioid abuse is more prevalent among students who are white, members of a fraternity/sorority, have lower grade point averages, and attend more competitive colleges. These risk factors have led colleges to establish “substance free housing” on their campuses, but there is no current research on the efficacy of this method. Drug and addiction experts warn colleges that they need to pay closer attention to this issue. In the United States, nonmedical use of opioids is second only to marijuana as the most commonly abused drug. Despite the severity of the issue, there is currently only a basic system of prevention, education, and treatment available in colleges, and treatment is often difficult once someone is already hooked due to high dropout and relapse rates. Right now, there are around 200 collegiate recovery programs—that’s only 5 percent of campuses. The problem is, many colleges are hesitant to take drastic measures because they do not want to dampen their university’s reputation by indicating a substance abuse issue on campus. This can put students in the difficult situation of forcing them to choose between continuing in the environment that feeds their problem or prioritizing their health at the cost of their education. 

The United States has varying laws regarding opioids at the local, state, and federal levels. Some places are stricter than others, and sometimes even just having drug paraphernalia can result in an arrest. College students who are caught with opioids can risk getting kicked out of extracurricular activities, suspension, or even expulsion. A drug charge on a student’s record is serious— the student may risk future jobs and may not be able to join the military. Depending on how serious the charge is, jail, state, or federal prison is also a possibility. The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) prohibits illegal manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing of controlled substances. It also prohibits their possession for the purpose of distributing and dispensing. Even if you are just in the car with a friend who is in possession of opioids, you run the risk of getting charged for a crime, going to court, paying a fine, or going to prison. To find out more about your state drug laws, go to your state’s government website and search for drug laws. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with an opioid addiction, please considering contacting any of the following 24/7 confidential help hotlines.

  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 1-800-622-4357
  2. National Drug Helpline (Opiates): 1-844-289-0879 
  3. The Recovery Village (Opioid Hotline): 1-855-726-9505
  4. SAMHSA Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator: 

These materials have been prepared by WG for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.

Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

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