By Emily Brown and James M. O’Neill
March 15, 2007 (Bloomberg) — Forty-nine percent of U.S. college students indulge each month in binge drinking or drug use, abusing them at rates far higher than in the general population, according to a report.
About 1.8 million students met the medical criteria for substance abuse or dependence in 2005, 2 1/2 times the national level, as they sought to relieve stress, improve mood or enhance performance, said the report, released today by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
The risky behavior results in overdose deaths, academic failure, assaults, date rape and property damage on U.S. campuses, it said. The study blames university presidents, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, parents and high schools, and recommends that the NCAA bar alcohol advertising at its sporting events.
“We’re playing Russian roulette with the future leaders of our country,” the center’s president, Joseph Califano Jr., said in a phone interview yesterday. “In a time of fierce global competition, do we want to put our best and brightest students at risk?”
The New York-based group compared data from its initial studies conducted in 1993 and 1994 on substance abuse among American college students with surveys taken from 2002 to 2005, including results from the Monitoring the Future Study, the National College Health Assessment Survey and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Prescription Abuse Soars
Abuse of controlled prescription drugs “has skyrocketed,” the study says. From 1993 to 2005, the proportion of students who abuse such prescription painkillers as Endo Pharmaceuticals Holdings Inc.’s Percocet, Abbott Laboratories’ Vicodin and Purdue Pharma LP’s OxyContin increased more than threefold, to 240,000 students.
Student abuse of stimulants such as Novartis AG’s Ritalin and Shire Plc’s Adderall almost doubled in that period, to 225,000 students, the study said.
In addition, abuse of tranquilizers, such as Pfizer Inc.’s Xanax and Roche Holding AG’s Valium rose more than fourfold to 171,000, the study said. It said abuse of sedatives increased more than twofold, to 101,000 students.
The proportion of marijuana smokers has increased 110 percent since the ’90s, and the use of cocaine and heroin is an increasing problem, according to the researchers.
Nearly 38 percent of college administrators say it’s difficult to prevent alcohol and drug use when the public perception is that substance abuse by college students is a “normal rite of passage,” the researchers said in a statement.
Schools Fight Back
School officials are reluctant to take on issues they feel they can’t change, Edward Malloy, president emeritus at the University of Notre Dame and chairman of the center’s commission, said in the statement.
“Too many assume a Pontius Pilate posture, leaving the problem in the hands of the students,” the center said.
Peter McPherson, former president of Michigan State University and currently president of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, said the Pontius Pilate comment “is frankly outrageous.” He said in a phone interview that “every president of every major university works on this issue all the time.”
McPherson said Michigan State officials have tried to hammer home the idea that alcohol abuse is a safety issue. “We let them know date rapes occur most often when one of the parties is drunk,” he said.
Spreading the Word
When one student died after binge drinking to celebrate his 21st birthday in the 1990s, the school worked with his parents to arrange for a postcard to go to all students before they turned 21 warning about excessive celebrating, he said. McPherson said other schools have started a similar practice.
More than 7.76 million people in 2005 attended college full- time, the group said, citing the U.S. Census Bureau.
Califano said in the phone interview that “a lot of people are failing in their responsibility.”
“College presidents are giving it low priority because they are focused on raising money. Trustees rarely put it high on their agenda. And parents are responsible too,” Califano said, noting that nearly two-thirds of college student drinkers began in high school and 8 percent began in junior high.
“Parents who provide the funds for their children in college to purchase alcohol and drugs and party at substance- fueled spring breaks are enablers of the college culture of abuse,” the study said.
Some college officials have tried to make inroads into the problem. John M. McCardell Jr., former president of Middlebury College in Vermont, has started a nonprofit called Choose Responsibility to promote public awareness about the dangers of excessive drinking and to spur debate on the U.S. drinking age. McCardell said in a phone interview that the alarming statistics in the report raise questions about the value of keeping the drinking age at 21.
The center recommends tighter controls on alcohol and tobacco advertising that target young people. Schools should consider banning smoking on campuses, and state and federal funds should be used for programs that prevent the unlawful use or possession of alcohol or illicit drugs, the authors said.
They also recommended that the National Collegiate Athletic Association should eliminate beer and other alcohol advertising during event broadcasts, and national Greek organizations should prevent hazing practices that involve substance use.
Bob Williams, a spokesman for the NCAA, said in a phone interview that in 2006, the median viewer age for the Division I men’s basketball championship game was 47, and 89 percent of viewers were over age 21. He said the NCAA does not allow alcohol advertising at its championship venues.
“On the surface it appears perhaps they need to do a little more research,” he said of the center.
Please see Attribution to OnlineEducation.net for more information and to view a very interesting and informative Binge Drinking graphic.