Prescription drug use number rising at USU

Prescription drug abuse and misuse are on the rise at Utah State University, said drug and alcohol prevention specialist Ryan Barfuss of the USU Wellness Center. “The high-risk groups on campus are your student athletes, your Greeks and incoming freshman,” Barfuss said. “People are going out and abusing (prescription drugs) to get high and sharing it and using it in non-prescribed ways.” Barfuss is the USU representative on the Northern Utah Substance Abuse Prevention Team, which is a coalition in Cache County made up of law enforcement, the health department, PTA and concerned members of the community. The team, which works with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), recently received a grant to research problems with prescription drug abuse. Sharing, improper disposal and medications over-prescribed by doctors were the three main issues found in surveys.

<strong>The Problem with Prescription Drugs</strong>

“Since 2000, Utah has experienced a more than four-fold increase in deaths associated with prescribed opioid pain medications,” Barfuss said. Barfuess said according to the website, deaths due to prescribed pain medications are the fourth-highest in the state. More Utah residents die from unintentional overdoses than from motor vehicle collisions. Barfuss said 2009 results from a survey he does every two years did not indicate a problem with prescription meds on campus, but he suspects the problem is underreported. “On campus a lot of people don’t think it’s a problem or that because they’re prescribed it, it’s okay to have it or use it down the road,” he said. “You hear about it all the time with students using ADHD drugs like Ritalin and Adderall for studying and staying up later.” In 2011, he said he will narrow the scope of his survey to include questions regarding sharing and using without a prescription. “They start diagnosing themselves and thinking it’s okay to take a friend’s prescription medication,” Barfuss said. “If a student is into hard drugs like cocaine or heroin, they generally started with prescription drugs.” Capt. Steve Milne of the USU Police Department cited 2009 department arrest data showing 18 drug-related arrests. Drugs are the third-highest reason for arrest and are sometimes concurrent with alcohol, the highest reason for arrest. Most drug incidents occur on Friday and Saturday nights between the hours of 8 p.m. and 2 a.m., according to the USUPD arrest data. Sgt. John Italasano of the North Park Police Department said painkillers like oxycodone and oxycontin appeal to young people who sometimes raid their parents’ and grandparents’ medicine cabinets for a free high. “Those types of painkillers are abused by a lot of people,” Italasano said, “so any time we can get rid of them we’re better off.” Italasano, Milne and Barfuss recently worked together with the DEA and health department to install a prescription drug drop-off box just inside the entrance to the USU Police headquarters.

<strong>A Possible Solution</strong>

Milne said the drop-off box was made operational Jan. 19, and people were already stopping in and talking about using it to drop off medications they no longer use. He said the DEA won’t allow them to use it for illegal narcotics like marijuana, but bags are available for disposal of all types of prescription drugs from antibiotics to Vicodin.

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