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Xanax abuse on the rise on college campuses

Colton Shone
March 28, 2017 10:30 PM

Tough professors. Exams. Skyrocketing tuition. No money and hectic social lives. Colleges across America are teeming with overworked, anxious and stressed out students.

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The University of New Mexico is no different.

"Oh yeah, it can get pretty stressful," said Quan Huinh, a UNM student.

Those are a few reasons why health experts are seeing an explosion in the abuse of Xanax on campuses across the country.

"It kind of makes them feel chill or sedated and that appears to be the appeal of it," said Dr. James Wilterding, executive director at at UNM Student Health and Counseling.

Xanax belongs to a class of drugs called benzodiazapines. Street names for the pill include zanies, bennies and footballs. Doctors are concerned students are taking them at parties together with heavy drinking.

"I know people who have and they haven't been explicit in detail, but I have some idea of what's going on," UNM student Brandon McIntyre said. "But yeah, that's crazy."

"They think it makes them have a little more fun at a party and also maybe just try to deal with the everyday problems they have to deal with," added another UNM student, Kent Coombs.

Wilterding said there have been a couple of students who had to seek care for Xanax abuse.

"We became aware recently that one of our students who had formed a dependence on that drug who had the misperception that prescription drugs were safer than illegal drugs," he said.

Wilterding says there is a 12 percent misuse rate of drugs among college-age individuals. Some probably heard of stimulant abuse on campus like Ritalin. But closely behind are opioids and benzodiazapines like xanax. They're all very accessible.

"You can probably walk out on the street and an individual can buy it on a street corner," Wilterding said."

And there's an underlying problem here in Albuquerque.

"I've been practicing addiction medicine for multiple years here. I consistently see a certain percentage of patients that are prescribed extremely high doses of benzodiazepines most commonly Xanax and to a lesser extent Klonopin," said Dr. Christian Shaw with the Duke City Recovery Toolbox.

Shaw said there's a ring of health providers in the metro who hand out scripts for these pills as if they were candy.

"So, what you have is a two-fold problem," Shaw said. "You have irresponsible clinicians prescribing this medication at very high levels which is dangerous. Secondarily, it's prescribed so readily it's not only used by the individuals who it's prescribed for, but it's illegally diverted into the streets."

That's why UNM officials are trying to get ahead of it by alerting students the consequences can be deadly.

"To discontinue use can cause seizure and even death, and it's almost more dangerous than using the drug once you become dependent on it," Wilterding said. "Getting off of it is very difficult."

Wilterding said they're using social media and reaching out to student groups and organizations to tell them about the dangers of Xanax. Doctors best advice? Don't start.

Credits

Colton Shone

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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