Not long after Narcotic Overdose Prevention and Education (NOPE) Task Force was created in 2002, we decided to bring our anti-drug messages to college campuses.
The reason was simple.
Both the national data (ACHA Surveys) and our anecdotal experience in partnering with law enforcement and other agencies indicated that college students were at high risk for overdose death.
We were aware that college students were misusing prescription drugs, but most concerning was the number of students who were hospitalized for combining these drugs with alcohol— which created particularly dangerous situations.
Often, as a result of students’ privacy concerns, the students’ parents were not made aware of these near-death experiences. As a result, NOPE decided to tackle the problem by raising awareness within the college population directly. We set out to present at colleges across Florida and beyond. We needed to bring our messages to the students on their campuses and on their terms.
Our first presentation was in 2007 at Lynn University in Boca Raton during National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week (NCAAW). To date, we have done presentations at nearly 15 colleges, including Florida Atlantic University, Barry University, Florida Gulf Coast University, and University of North Florida.
We also have presented at American College Health Association’s (ACHA) Annual National Conference in Philadelphia, the Generation Rx University Conference at The Ohio State University, and National Association of Behavioral Intervention Team (NABITA) National Conference in Naples.
The life-threatening overdose incidents at colleges were the impetus for nationwide College Amnesty policies and eventually the 911 Good Samaritan law in Florida and other states.
Over the years, our presentations at colleges have been mostly well-received. We work hard to steer away scare tactics in favor of providing straight-forward, data-driven messages and real life cases/circumstances without judgment. We strive to provide answers to tough questions such as the following (see the answers here):
- How quickly can I become addicted to a drug?
- How do I talk to my parents about getting help? What should I say?
- Isn’t becoming addicted to a drug just a character flaw?
- Shouldn’t treatment for drug addiction be a one-shot deal?
- If drug addiction is a disease, is there a cure?
At our presentations, students often open up deeply about their friends’, their family members’, or their own experiences with drugs. When that happens, we offer them information and support to get the help they need.
Still, getting students to attend our presentations is challenging. As a result, at schools like Lynn University, trained students have delivered similar messages to their peers.
While prescription drug misuse and overdose deaths remain a national health and safety issue, we’ve made tremendous in-roads at educating thousands of college students about the dangers of drugs. NOPE will continue delivering our messages to college students for as long as the disease of addiction remains a problem in the communities we serve.
Gary Martin is Vice President of NOPE Task Force and Dean of Students at Lynn University.