The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is calling painkiller use in the U.S. a “public health epidemic.” A new study found that non-medical drug abuse is linked to depression and suicide in college students. Keith Zullig, PhD, from West Virginia University and Amanda Divin, PhD, from Western Illinois University conducted a study analyzing non-medical drug use among college students and its relationship to symptoms of depression. Zullig and Divin analyzed data from the 2008 American College Health Association National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA ). ANCHA-NCHA asked 26,000 randomly selected college students from 40 campuses in the U.S about their non-medical drug use including painkillers, stimulants, sedatives, and antidepressants, along with their overall mental health in the last year. The study, entitled “The Association between Non-medical Prescription Drug Use, Depressive Symptoms, and Suicidality among College Students” appears in the August 2012 issue of Addictive Behaviors: An International Journal . Authors reported that 13 percent of respondents who felt hopeless, sad, depressed, or were considered suicidal were using non-medical prescription drugs. The results were especially apparent in college females who reported painkiller use. Authors suggest that these findings are the result of college students self-medicating to mask their psychological distress. “Because prescription drugs are tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and prescribed by a doctor, most people perceive them as ‘safe’ and don't see the harm in sharing with friends or family if they have a few extra pills left over,” Divin said in a news story from Western Illinois University. “Unfortunately, all drugs potentially have dangerous side effects. As our study demonstrates, use of prescription drugs—particularly painkillers like Vicodin and Oxycontin—is related to depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts and behaviors in college students. This is why use of such drugs need[s] to be monitored by a doctor and why mental health outreach on college campuses is particularly important.” The U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Center for Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Violence Prevention says, “Before choosing a prevention strategy, you must start with assessment—the same as you would when addressing high-risk alcohol abuse or violence on campus.” The Center’s suggestions included surveys such as the NCHA, environmental scanning, including physical and online social networking environments, and increased faculty-student contact and mentoring. What do you think? Should colleges do more to address non-medical prescription drug abuse as part of mental health and suicide prevention programs for their students? We would love to hear from you and keep the conversation going! Editor’s note: This week, PAR is pleased to welcome guest blogger Grace Gardner. A recent graduate of the University of South Florida with a B.A. in Mass Communication, Grace is working as an editorial assistant this summer in the production department at PAR.