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Should Colleges Be Transparent About On-Campus Drug Abuse?

Although drinking and smoking pot have long been prevalent on college campuses, parents have new reason for concern as heroin use is now sharply rising among university students.

The Numbers on Campus

A 2012 National College Health assessment found that over 19 percent of students said they knew someone who had used heroin, while nearly two percent of the 76,481 students surveyed admitting to trying heroin at least once.

Heroin is typically cheaper than prescription drugs and provides a more intense high, so perhaps it’s not surprising that the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that nearly 50 percent of young heroin users abused prescription drugs first before turning to heroin.

The Troubling Rise of Heroin

Data released last November from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that about 89,000 young adults started using heroin each year between 2009 and 2011, a significant rise from 36,000 per year between 2002 and 2005. But since heroin can damage the developing brains of college students, it can greatly impact their academic performance and ultimately cause permanent damage.

“If you’re on heroin, you’re just not a good student,” said Carl Taylor, a sociology professor at Michigan State University. “It essentially takes them out [of school] I don’t even imagine how you would keep up.”

A Tragic College Story

The most recent high-profile case of heroin on college campuses is Logan (he’s only being identified publicly by his middle name), a student at UMass Amherst who passed away from an overdose in October 2013.

Logan had previously been arrested by college police and charged with cocaine possession before being arrested for a second time during October 2012 for heroin possession. However, campus police agreed they would not inform his parents or seek criminal charges if he became a “narc” for the school. Two months later, Logan turned in a fellow drug dealer to campus police.

Shortly afterward, Logan suffered from depression that stemmed from being a “snitch” and his own inability to kick his heroin addiction.

When his parents arrived for Family Week, they found him dead in his dorm room bathroom floor, with a needle and spoon next to his body. They had no idea about his drug addiction or previous arrests.

“If somebody had told me at 3 a.m. that Logan was using heroin, I would have driven there,” said Logan’s mother. “I would have called the cops just to make sure he was safe. I would have done whatever it takes. But nobody gave me that opportunity.”

What Can Parents Do?

Logan’s tragic story sheds light on the rapid rise of heroin use on college campuses, as well as the ease with which the potent opiate drug can be obtained.

So, what can parents do? Experts say concerned parents should:

  • Speak with officials at their child’s college to find out what the campus drug policy.
  • Ask if they have campus resources that are available to students who are struggling with addiction.
  • They should also speak directly with their own children about the dangers of heroin use and the potentially fatal consequences.


Additional Reading: Keeping Your Teen Sober is a Family Affair