BEE HEARD: A lethal combination, alcohol and opioids among college students

Photo Credit: Native Connections

Summer is almost here, and some students might be returning home from college for seasonal work or to continue their education by enrolling in summer sessions. We want to spread awareness and information to students, parents, friends, and family members about the dangers of mixing alcohol and opioids together. Data shows that not all college students use substances; however, it is important that we still talk about the harms of using alcohol and other substances. You never know when someone who means a lot to you might be using substances and we want to equip you with information you can share.  

The opioid epidemic has devastated communities across the country, and college students have not been spared (#ProofIsInTheNumbers). One in seven college students have misused a prescription drug during the past year. The high rates of opioid use among college-aged youth have led to rising death rates, and in 2018, more than 3,600 Americans under 25 died from a fatal overdose.   

Alcohol is all too often a contributing factor to these preventable deaths. Recent reports from health experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have documented that more than half of those who misuse prescription opioids engage in binge drinking. With almost 55% of college students ages 18-22 reporting drinking alcohol in the past month and one third of them engaging in binge drinking, mixing alcohol and opioids is a serious health concern among college students.  

The situation is so severe that Pennsylvania issued its 13th successive disaster declaration over the overdose crisis in 2021. COVID-19 has only exacerbated harms related to both opioids and alcohol, as Americans of all ages have struggled with the pandemic’s isolating effects. The data tells us that if we could reduce rates of excessive alcohol use among college students, we would see fewer deaths due to drug overdoses.   

College communities can look to the College Alcohol Intervention Matrix (CollegeAIM), created by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, that helps colleges and their communities identify and implement effective alcohol interventions. This includes looking at the alcohol policy environment around a college campus, from hours and days of alcohol sales, to the number of alcohol outlets near a college campus. This tool is easy to use and critical for changing the drinking culture on college campuses that continues to persist.  

Yet, according to a 2019 report, college campuses can still fall short in implementing the most effective strategies, citing lack of information, resources and coordination. Too often, colleges may rely too heavily on educational programming; however, informational campaigns alone will not successfully reduce substance use if efforts are not focused on also reducing the availability of alcohol and drugs. As many colleges begin to plan to return students to campus in fall 2021, they have an opportunity – and a responsibility – to set policies now that will help protect students from both binge drinking and opioids. This will take coordinated effort with the local community. 

It should not be a surprise that heavy drinking can lead to adverse outcomes and combining alcohol with opioids increases the risks – like taking the wrong pill or too many of them. Binge drinking among college students, and especially when mixed with opioids, can lead to deadly consequences. College campuses can take action to adopt policies and practices on campus while supporting policies off campus that reduce availability of alcohol to prevent alcohol and substance use harms among college students. 

Reach out for more information or for help. The Southern Ute Behavioral Health Division offers a variety of services and people who you can ask questions and find out more information about the dangers of alcohol or other substances. We can also talk about recovery and support systems both locally and virtually. Please reach out to us and let’s work together to create a healthy community for our present and our future generations 


SAMHSA, Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Heath: Detailed Tables (Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Applied Studies, 2018). 

Hedegaard H, Miniño AM, Warner M. Drug overdose deaths in the United States, 1999–2018. NCHS Data Brief, no 356. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2020. 

Esser MB, Guy GP Jr, Zhang K, Brewer RD. Binge Drinking and Prescription Opioid Misuse in the U.S., 2012-2014. Am J Prev Med. 2019 Aug;57(2):197-208. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2019.02.025. Epub 2019 Jun 11. PMID: 31200998; PMCID: PMC6642832. 

SAMHSA, Center for Behavioral Statistics and Quality. 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Table 6.21B—Types of Illicit Drug, Tobacco Product, and Alcohol Use in Past Month among Persons Aged 18 to 22, by College Enrollment Status and Gender: Percentages, 2018 and 2019. Accessed January 11, 2021. 

 American Council of Trustees and Alumni and University of Maryland School of Public Health, 2019. Addressing College Drinking and Drug Use. A Primer for Trustees, Administrators, and Alumni. [online] Washington, D.C.: American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Available at: <> [Accessed 12 March 2020]. 


You are ready to help create a drug-free community?

Want to help and be a part of the change? We are looking for community members and youth to join the Prevention Coalition tasked to reduce youth substance usage, eliminate mental health stigma, and start the discussion around suicide and prevention.  

We have monthly coalition meetings and workshops to help our community understand the real story behind alcohol, meth, opioids, vaping, marijuana, and other drugs in our community. We need your help! All meeting are held virtually.  

For more information please contact Precious Collins, Native Connections Program Coordinator for more information 970-563-5700 or email  

Upcoming Training or Events 

FREE online Suicide Prevention TrainingQuestion, Persuade, Refer (QPR) for Southern Ute Tribe Employees, and Southern Ute tribal members. Let’s all learn the warning signs and what to do if someone is experiencing a crisis.  

For more information please contact Precious Collins, Native Connections Program Coordinator for more information 970-563-5700 or email  

Native American Youth Talking Circles 

A virtual space for youth to meet, talk, and share challenges and accomplishments. Peer support system for Native American Youth in 9-12 grade. 

Please contact Stephanie Garcia at 970-563-5700 or email or Lisa Pratchett at to sign up. 


Local Resources 

  • Southern Ute Health Center- Behavior Health 69 Capote Drive, Ignacio, CO 970-563-4581. For local Native Americans. Call to schedule a counseling appointment. 
  • Southern Ute- Division of Social Services 116 Capote Drive, Ignacio, CO 970-563-2331 for local Native Americans needing assistance with child welfare needs and family support. 
  • 24/7 Axis Health System Care Hotline: Durango, CO You’re not alone. With our 24/7 crisis services, help is on the way. Your health… We’re in this together. 970-247-5245
  • St Ignatius Catholic Church, Pastor Cesar Arras, 14826 CO-172, Ignacio, CO 970-563-4241.
  • Ignacio Community Church, Pastor Randall Haynes 405 Browning Ave, Ignacio, CO (currently located inside ELHI) 970-759-3633 
  • Second Wind Fund of the Four Corners, believes that every child and youth at risk of suicide should have access to the mental health treatment they need. We match children and youth at risk for suicide with licensed therapists in their communities, 720-962-0706.
  • Women’s Resource Center, creates personal, social and professional growth opportunities for all women in La Plata County, 970-247-1242.

24/7 State or National Resources 

  • Colorado Crisis Line 844-493-8255 or Text “TALK” to 38255. You’ll immediately be put in contact with a trained counselor, ready to text with you about anything.
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has both an online chat and 24/7 phone line at 1-800-273-8255 if you are thinking of suicide or need help for a loved one.
  • The Trevor Project which seeks to serve LGBT youth, has a 24/7 suicide prevention line at 866-488-7386.
  • Join  theWe  R  Native  movement by liking them on Facebook (www facebook  com/weRnative) , signing up for the text messaging service (text NATIVE to 24587). 




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