A Little Bit of Edge Might be Just a Little too Far.by: Yonathan Ararso Editor-in-Chief
In an unprecedented turn of events, Hampden-Sydney recently lost yet another student from the class of 2014. On October 27, a memorial service was held at College Church for sophomore Zack Grier. As members of the community filled into the church, it was for the third time in less than a year. And for such a small community, three is not just a number. It is a significant absence that will continue to be felt. But H-SC is showing the symptoms of what is becoming an outbreak in colleges around the nation.
A recent article on TIME titled “Too Many Pills,” reports a 300% surge in deaths from the misuse of medications within the past decade. The Richmond Dispatch posts a death toll of 15,000 from abuse of prescription medications in 2008, almost four times the deaths from narcotic abuse data compared to ten years ago. The wide spectrum of prescription drugs encompasses anything from highly addictive painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin, and methadone to prescription analeptics/amphetamines—used to treat attention deficit disorders—like Ritalin, Adderall and Concerta. According to a recent National Institute of Health (NIH) report, the annual rate of doctor prescriptions has also hiked up to about 14 billion. This is neglecting the 2,000 or so over-the-counter drugs available to the population without a prescription.
The uncontested availability of drugs on the market has also made its way into to the college environment. Though prescription drugs are commonly used to achieve a narcotic high, a recent trend shows alternative uses, especially by college students. In a piece titled “The Adderall Advantage,” NY Times journalist Andrew Jacobs investigates the abuse of medication in college campuses. His investigation focuses on students of Columbia University. “The environment here is incredibly competitive,” says one of the students Jacobs interviewed swallowing a 20-milligram tablet of Adderall on his way to the library. “If you don’t take them, you will be at a disadvantage to everyone else.”
This disturbing trend has elicited serious concerns from health professionals. “Things have really gotten out of hand in the last four to five years,” says Dr. Robert Winfield, director of University Health Service at University of Michigan, trying to explain the notion that students seem to associate taking these pills with guaranteed academic success. But is this practice so different from the athlete who gulps down a glass of Creatine before a workout or the dedicated student who drains a can of Red Bull to stay up late studying for his economics test? Aren’t they all trying to get a little edge in the competitive environment that is college?
Where the risk factor dramatically increases for prescription drug users, however, is when alcohol is brought to the mix. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explains the process. Like most chemical agents, drugs and alcohol must travel through the blood stream in order to reach their site of action. Recognizing their toxic nature, the body slowly breaks down these toxins using enzymes to speed up the metabolic process. When a person who has taken Hydrocodon, for example, imbibes alcoholic beverages, the metabolism of the drug is altered. Since both toxins will compete for the same set of enzymes, the drug-alcohol interaction prolongs the drug’s availability and dramatically increases the risk of experiencing harmful side effects.