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You hear about the opioid crisis and its staggering figures almost every time you read the news. It’s a truly horrifying epidemic, yet Penn students are not nearly as cognizant as we should be about it. 

This crisis might seem a world away. You might associate it with “poor whites” or some news story with daunting figures, but it’s more than that. One of the most surprising and frightening aspects of the opioid crisis is that we at Penn are not far removed from it, for a number of reasons. In fact, Penn is situated a mere block away from the Charles O’Brien Center for Addiction Treatment, a methadone clinic on 35th and Market. Many of the people that you might see in numerous Philadelphia neighborhoods are suffering from opioid addiction, particularly that of Kensington

There’s a stereotype that only poor people have fallen prey to opioids. That’s far from the truth. Virtually anyone could become addicted to opioids, which makes the crisis that much more proximate and frightening. A number of victims include college students who take unprescribed opioids or opiates (to clarify, opioids include opiates and other substances that bind to the brain’s opioid receptors). There has been a slew of stories over the past few years about college students who have overdosed on recreational opioids. 

Many college students who have or are suffering from opioid addiction come from wealthier backgrounds. It continues to puzzle both researchers and the public as to why so many of these young adults have fallen prey to opioids, but some explanations include the independence that college students gain upon starting college, the lure of the unknown, the glorification of drugs in the American media, and the harmful myth that they’re an easy way to cope with the pressures of being a college student. College students of all socioeconomic classes deal with stressors that come with being an adult. However, some wealthier children may have been exposed to opioids or other drugs at high-achieving high schools as a way to cope with high expectations from the adults around them. Additionally, wealthier kids sometimes have greater access to opioids, which are some of the most expensive drugs, through their parents, doctors, or friends. 

With all of the seemingly inevitable terrors that the opioid crisis surrounds us with, how can we, as Penn students, act? Active awareness and involvement are viable first steps. Schools like the University of Washington have looked to Resident Advisors to inform their residents about the dangers of opioids. Numerous universities have also started to supply naloxone, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses, and are providing the corresponding training required to administer it. Professional and community service endeavors, through the City of Philadelphia and AmeriCorps, are also great ways to get involved while you’re living in Philadelphia. 

Another arguably more extreme step would be to actively discourage drug use in college. Drug abuse prevention won’t succeed from just governmental policies or ads telling us that drugs are bad. There need to be deep-rooted cultural and psychological changes about what the college experience is really about. Many people say that college is a time to explore and experiment, and the portrayal of drug use as a mere fun phase is harmful. 

Far too often, people on American college campuses and the general American population tout the idea of using drugs “safely.” But recreational drug use is never safe. It is going to take a cultural change, not just an administrative one, to tackle the opioid crisis on college campuses. 

We need to be more aware of our proximity to the opioid crisis. Just because we attend a world-class university does not mean that we are shielded from its horrors. 

ALEX SILBERZWEIG is a College senior studying Science, Technology, and Society. Her email address is alexsil@sas.upenn.edu.

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