Up to 2 percent of University of Wisconsin students have reported misusing painkillers in the past month alone, University Health Services Director Sarah Van Orman said.
Nationally, deaths from drug overdoses have been steadily increasing over the years with almost 60 percent of the deaths involving pharmaceutical drugs in 2010, according to a Centers for Disease Control report.
Van Orman said in recent years, there has been a rise in the number of painkillers prescribed to patients for medical reasons, and as the number of painkillers rose, so did the amount of people addicted to these medications.
In addition to a spike in painkiller addictions, heroin addiction and overdoses have also experienced a sudden rise, Van Orman said. Each of these addictions were from either taking too many prescription drugs or switching from opioid pain medication to heroin once addicted to the opioid medication, she said.
Painkiller and heroin overdoses are not much different and both can be extremely fatal to someone who is addicted to the drugs, Van Orman said.
Mia DeFino is a co-founder with the Wisconsin Pain Coalition, a group that is working to advocate for the people of Wisconsin who suffer from chronic pain, and in particular, serious pain. She said there is a movement growing to try and find different and better ways than painkillers to treat patients with chronic pain, but in some instances, the medication is the most effective way.
“There is a majority of people who use prescription pain medication responsibly, so I think that you need to take all of this with a grain of salt,” DeFino said.
DeFino said physicians must be aware of the dosage amount given to patients when prescribing opioid medication because there is always a fine line between strictly taking medication and becoming addicted.
The U.S. Senate Finance Committee investigated ties between pain policy groups and painkiller makers, including UW’s Pain and Policy Studies Group. However, the group told the committee they stopped accepting money from drug companies in 2010, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
Van Orman said the Pain and Policy Study Group attempts to communicate with patients and people who use pain medication about the dangers of potentially becoming addicted to the drugs.
UW sees about the same numbers of students misusing prescription pain medication to that of universities around the country, Van Orman said.
“Our numbers suggest about 7 percent of students have reported misusing painkillers in the past year,” she said.
Van Orman said while the number may seem small, it is in-line with the national average and is still a visible problem that needs to be resolved to keep students safe and healthy.
Van Orman said students who have come forward to UHS with addictions to opioid pain medication have been given the necessary treatment and taken proper measures to address their addiction.
There has not been a death related to prescription pain medication on campus, but there have been overdoses in which students have needed to be taken to the emergency room, Van Orman said.