Opioid Crisis

According to the state’s Department of Health, drug poisioning is one of the “leading causes of fatal injuries among Hawai’i Residents”.

Adderall is claimed to help heighten focus to get work done. But, it appears that the risks of using psychoactive drugs outweigh the benefits in the face of the current opioid public health crisis.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention report that 48.5 million Americans have used illicit drugs or misused prescription drugs, contributing to the rise of drug overdose deaths. In 2017, 68% of the 70,200 drug overdose deaths involved the use of opioids. 

How do these numbers fare against past data, though? The number of overdose deaths involving prescribed and illegal opioids had risen by six times in 2017 compared to 1999. In total, from 1999-2017, over 700,000 people have died from a drug overdose. 

On average, 130 Americans die from an opioid overdose every day from prescribed and illicit opioids.

In an email interview with Kaiser Permanente Hawaii psychiatrist Jessica H. Morris, she stated that, “Opioids, including Oxycodone, Fentanyl, and Methadone, have created a public health issue not only on school grounds, but across the United States. The use of opioids by college students has risen dramatically over the past two decades, resulting in more addictions and accidental overdoses. Among these opioids is the use of Adderall, an addictive stimulant that students misuse in the vain that it will help them focus on their schoolwork notwithstanding the dangers associated with taking amphetamines for non-medical or non-prescribed purposes.”

In doing so, substance abuse and other habits begin to form. Substance use disorder can emerge, a biological brain disorder that is characterized by chronic, relapsing and compulsive drug use. “These behaviors continue despite negative impacts on health and well-being,” Morris said.

Morris emphasized that, “A substance use disorder can lead to substance abuse, a pattern of using mind altering substances in a harmful way. These psychoactive substances can change brain functions and cause alterations in perception, mood, consciousness or behavior. They can also lead to tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. Not only can substance abuse impact your health, it can also jeopardize your relationships, education, employability and may lead to legal issues.”

The range of psychoactive substances come in both legal and illegal forms. The most common illegal drugs include heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and hallucinogens. Cannabis is also considered an illegal drug in some states. On the other hand, legal drugs most commonly abused are alcohol, nicotine, medicinal cannabis and prescription medications such as sedatives, stimulants and opioid prescription pills. The use of these drugs can cause a multitude of health problems and may lead to addiction, chronic diseases and even death. 

Recreational or prescription use of these drugs developing into substance abuse is not always intentional. Substance abuse forms because of the way psychoactive substances alter the brain.

“One of the major changes has to do with the production and reabsorption of dopamine, a chemical that contributes to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Psychoactive substances can cause a boost in dopamine, driving people to seek out those drugs and develop a pattern of use that becomes harmful. Many people slip into a harmful pattern without realizing it,” Morris said.

Certain demographics may be more susceptible to developing substance abuse. Genetic and environmental factors may play a role, including a person’s gender, race, geographic location, exposure to drugs, genetics and family history of addiction. 

“Moving out to attend college was also found to increase the risk of substance abuse,” Morris said.

Moreover, exposure to drugs at a young age increases the likelihood of becoming an abuser in the future. According to Morris, this is quite troubling because Hawai‘i ranked fourth in the nation for high school students who were offered, sold or given an illegal drug by someone on school property. 

Also, the presence of comorbid mental illness, such as depression or anxiety,  is a risk factor.  A comorbidity diagnosis in psychology refers to a patient who has a substance abuse disorder such as alcohol or drug addition while a mental or psychotic health disorder is present. Thus, the treatment of co-occurring mental illness is key in preventing and treating substance use disorders as well.

For college students, alcohol is the most common substance that is abused. In social settings like a party or being in the dorm room with a friend, many college students can come into contact with drugs. A national survey states that 57.2% of full-time college students ages 18 to 22 drank alcohol, 38% engaged in binge drinking and 10.5% engaged in heavy alcohol use in the past month, according to Morris. 

“Binge drinking has become a social norm on college campuses across the country and can lead to unsafe behaviors such as assault, unprotected sex and drunk driving,” Morris said. 

Although Adderall is a frequent issue among college students, Morris cautions on the rise of electronic cigarettes and vaping devices, as they have become popular delivery systems for high doses of nicotine and cannabis. Morris said that there needs to be more services on college campuses that help students in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction.

Prevention and seeking help: 

Avoiding high-risk situations with exposure or temptation to use drugs is key. Proper self-care can help prevent and treat substance use disorders. 

Morris said that it is important to develop healthy habits such as working on a diet, getting better sleep or exercising. 

If you suspect that someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, there are services such as calling the national drug helpline at 888-633-3239.