Encountering Overdose: An Analysis of College Students' Overdose Experiences

Student: Duncan Weller and Anne Scully

Major: Public Health

Mentors: Dr. Sarah Hatteberg and Dr. Christy Kollath-Cattano

Department: Sociology & Anthropology; Health and Human Performance

Encountering Overdose: An Analysis of College Students' Overdose Experiences

As the opioid epidemic continues in America, marked by an increase in overdose events and deaths, public health scholars have called for more detailed research into the causes and consequences of drug overdose (Martins et al., 2015). In response, recent research has examined some of the sociodemographic correlates and behavioral antecedents of both fatal and non-fatal overdose (Hingson, Zha, and Smyth, 2017; Paulozzi, 2012; Silva et al., 2013), yet significantly less attention has been given to better understanding the social, personal, and health-related consequences of individuals' overdose experiences. Beyond the immediate physical and mental health consequences of personal overdose, there is evidence to suggest that witnessing an overdose can be a particularly stressful experience (Wagner et al., 2014) and having a family member or friend overdose can lead to increased likelihood of personal overdose (Silva et al., 2013). However, there are no studies of which we are aware that have examined overdose experiences among college students, including exploring how these experiences impact them personally or emotionally. Filling these gaps in the literature, this study uses a mixed methods approach to explore the contexts of college students' overdose experiences. Data are drawn from an anonymous web-based survey conducted among college students in Spring 2020. Using quantitative measures, this study assesses the prevalence of and circumstances surrounding overdose among college students. Additionally, through a content analysis of open-ended survey questions, this study explores how college students perceive their overdose encounters (their own overdose experiences, overdoses to which they were witness, and experiences related to having a close friend or family member overdose) to impact them personally. Using results of this study, practical recommendations are made to support students at risk of overdose as well as those who may experience negative consequences as the result of their personal or proximate overdose encounters.