Last May, four students at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore were hospitalized after overdosing on opioids. Furman University in South Carolina lost a student the day before his graduation last spring when he overdosed on fentanyl. Around the same time, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was found dead in his bedroom. In his system were traces of the opioids he had tried desperately to kick.
Because of these and other incidents, states have urged colleges to take action. New York and Colorado are earmarking millions of dollars to their public colleges for prevention education and research. Maryland now requires colleges and universities to offer arriving students a drug-prevention class on the risks of opioid use, and New Jersey last year announced a $1 million increase for “recovery dorms”—living areas that cater to students battling substance abuse—on public campuses in the state.
It’s not uncommon for stores near universities to stock free overdose reversal kits of naloxone, a drug that blocks the effects of opioids. And many schools now provide overdose-prevention training sessions for residence hall assistants, campus police officers, and health care workers.
There is little data on the extent of the problem among college students. But a 2016 national survey by the University of Michigan found that 7 percent of college students said they had misused opioid painkillers.
Colleges are struggling to help people like Julie Linneman, a sophomore at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. She got her first prescription pills in high school from the boy with the locker next to hers. In college, she moved on to cheaper heroin.
After a stint at a rehab center, she’s continuing her education and relying on support from other recovering student addicts in the Philadelphia area, who gather at the Haven at Drexel, Drexel University’s housing for students in recovery. “Sometimes,” Linneman says, “you just need to be around other students who know what you have gone through.”