Commentary: Working Together to Improve Public Health and Safety on College Campuses
Across the country, college and university campuses are welcoming new and returning students. As the first hints of fall are felt, excitement and opportunity are in the air. At the same time, we know the new school year also ushers in risks. For about 40 percent of college students, binge drinking will be a part of their college experience. Making matters worse, a 2010 national survey found that about 14 percent of college students reported marijuana or other drug use over the past month. It is no surprise that binge drinking and drug use are problems on our campuses. Nor is it a surprise to learn that drug use and addiction can result in missed classes and lower grades.
The good news is that we know we can make progress. One of the most important ways we can improve public health and safety on campus is by treating drug addiction as a disease that can be successfully prevented and treated. As part of this effort,
the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has partnered with the Departments of Education, and Health and Human Services, college and university presidents and other leaders in higher education to implement a comprehensive strategy to address the challenge of underage drinking and drug use on campus. This plan supports the President’s recently released 2011 National Drug Control Strategy, which also calls for a new Healthy College Campuses grant program to support drug, violence, binge drinking prevention and collegiate recovery programs.
As part of our efforts, ONDCP is encouraging colleges and universities to use an innovative program called SBIRT – Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment—in college health centers. SBIRT programs are effective in detecting troublesome drug use early and treating it before it becomes a more serious problem. But detecting and treating substance abuse problems in a health setting is just one part of the solution. We must also support students who are in successful recovery.
As part of our strategy to help students maintain their recovery from addiction in a challenging environment, we are encouraging the development of collegiate recovery programs and housing for students. Some collegiate recovery housing programs may be affiliated with existing collegiate recovery programs, as is the case with the Rutgers and Case Western programs, while others are free-standing, like the Tribeca Twelve, which is partly based on the Augsburg College StepUp program and will serve college students from across Manhattan. These programs are vital. They help shift social norms on campus and provide opportunities for drug- and alcohol-free community and social events.
So, as students return to campus, we hope you will work with us to ensure a greater percentage of our nation’s students are able to fulfill the promise that college holds. Working together, we can succeed in helping students identify and avoid drugs and social pressures that run counter to their health and safety and help meet President Obama’s goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.
David K. Mineta, Deputy Director for Demand Reduction, Office of National Drug Control Policy