National park in Hawaii reopens after months long eruption
By CALEB JONES
Sunday, September 23
HONOLULU (AP) — A national park in Hawaii has reopened after being closed for more than four months because of Kilauea volcano’s latest eruption, which caused widespread damage to park infrastructure and dramatically changed its landscape.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park officials said there were no lines or waiting for visitors to catch a glimpse of the volcano that made headlines across the world when it began erupting in May. Admission is free Saturday.
The eruption destroyed hundreds of homes outside the park while changing the popular summit crater inside the park.
The national park — normally the state’s most-visited tourist attraction — had been closed for 135 days as volcanic activity caused explosive eruptions, earthquakes and the collapse of the famed Halemaumau crater. Ash clouds shot skyward from the summit crater and blanketed the region in volcanic debris.
Kilauea has been active for decades. But the eruption that began in May has transformed both the park and the rural Big Island coastline that surrounds it.
Outside the park, lava flows consumed entire neighborhoods, filled an ocean bay and created miles of new shoreline with fresh black sand beaches and jagged rocky outcrops. Inside the park, molten rock drained from the summit lava lake and vanished from view as the landscape underwent a monumental change.
The summit crater floor sunk 1,500 feet (460 meters), and the overall Kilauea caldera widened — expanding more than 1 square mile, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It quadrupled in size as lava drained out of the active vent.
“This eruption was really unprecedented in the historic record,” Ingrid Johanson, a research geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “The changes we’ve seen at the summit are much more dramatic than anything that’s happened in the last 200 years.”
The crater looks “completely different,” Johanson said. “I think people are going to be really awestruck when they see it.”
However, one of the park’s biggest draws — the radiant red light from the lava lake that has been a Kilauea hallmark for over a decade — is completely gone.
“There is no glow at all,” said Shanelle Saunders, the park’s acting spokeswoman. “You can’t even see your hand in front your face it’s so dark in a lot of these areas. I mean, the stars right now are incredible, but there’s actually no flowing lava.”
The park will be open 24 hours a day, but visitors should be careful at night because of new cracks in trails and walkways. “Even if people are really familiar with those trails, they may have changed since they’ve been here,” Saunders said.
Public access to the volcano remains limited because of damage to its infrastructure. But visitors can once again hike around some parts of the summit area and see the aftermath of the historic eruption.
“The crater rim trail is open to a certain point,” Saunders said. “And from there, they can see down into the crater itself.”
The theme of this year’s National Public Lands Day is “resilience and restoration,” said Hawaii Volcanoes National Park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane, who noted that park repair work had been pointing toward a late-September reopening.
“We really wanted to invite visitors back without them having to pay on that first day,” Ferracane said. “The theme was so uncanny that we thought it would be a real good fit.”
While volcanic activity has slowed significantly in the past month and no lava is reaching the surface at Kilauea, scientists aren’t ready to declare the latest eruption over.
“There is still material that could feed into an eruption,” Johanson said. “I definitely expect that lava will return one day.”
Human-caused climate change severely exposes the U.S. national parks
September 24, 2018
Associate Adjunct Professor, University of California, Berkeley
The author wrote this article under his affiliation with the University of California, Berkeley. He is also the Principal Climate Change Scientist of the U.S. National Park Service, but this article does not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Government.
University of California provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Human-caused climate change is disrupting ecosystems and people’s lives around the world. It is melting glaciers, increasing wildfires, and shifting vegetation across vast landscapes. These impacts have reached national parks around the world and in the United States. Until now, however, no analysis had examined climate change trends across all 417 U.S. national parks.
The United States established the first national park in the world, Yellowstone National Park, in 1872. U.S. national parks today protect some of the most irreplaceable natural areas and cultural sites in the world. Colleagues and I aimed to uncover the magnitude of human-caused climate change on these special places. We conducted the first spatial analysis of historical and projected temperature and precipitation trends across all U.S. national parks and compared them with national trends.
Our newly published results reveal that climate change has exposed the national parks to conditions hotter and drier than the country as a whole. This occurs because extensive parts of the parks are in extreme environments – the Arctic, high mountains, and the arid southwestern United States.
Rapid warming and drying
National parks conserve the most intact natural places in the country. They harbor endangered plants and animals and unique ecosystems. They also help assure human well-being by protecting watersheds that provide drinking water to people and by storing carbon, which naturally reduces climate change.
Our findings show that temperatures in the national park area increased at double the national rate from 1895 to 2010. At the same time, precipitation decreased across a greater fraction of the national park area than across the United States as a whole.
Our analysis of climate trends starting in 1895 showed that temperatures increased most in Denali National Preserve, Alaska, and rainfall declined most in Honouliuli National Monument, Hawaii. Hotter temperatures from human-caused climate change have intensified droughts caused by low precipitation in California and the southwestern United States.
Many national parks in the southwestern U.S. have experienced intense drought. Patrick Gonzalez, CC BY
Human-caused climate change has caused historical impacts in places where we found significant past temperature increases. These impacts include melting of glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, tree death from bark beetles in Yellowstone National Park, upslope vegetation shifts in Yosemite National Park, California, and northward vegetation shifts in Noatak National Preserve, Alaska.
To quantify potential future changes, we analyzed all available climate model projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Continued greenhouse gas emissions under the highest emissions scenario could increase U.S. temperatures in the 21st century six times faster than occurred in the 20th century.
This could increase temperatures in national parks up to 9 degrees Celsius by 2100, with the most extreme increases in Alaska, and reduce precipitation by as much as 28 percent, in the national parks of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Heating could outpace the ability of many plant and animal species to move and stay in suitable climate spaces.
In places where models project high temperature increases, research has found high vulnerabilities of ecosystems. These vulnerabilities include severely increased wildfire in Yellowstone National Park, extensive death of Joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park, California, and possible disappearance of American pika, a small alpine mammal, from Lassen Volcanic National Park, California.
Our research provides climate data to analyze vulnerabilities of plants, animals and ecosystems. The data can also help park managers develop adaptation measures for fire management, invasive species control and other ways to protect parks in the future.
For example, based on analyses of the vulnerability of ecosystems to increased wildfire under climate change, parks can target prescribed burning and wildland fire in the short term to reduce the unnatural buildup of fuels that can cause catastrophic wildfires in the long term.
Reducing emissions can help parks
Ultimately, our results indicate that reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cars, power plants and other human sources can save parks from the most extreme heat. Compared to the highest emissions scenario, reduced emissions would lower the rate of temperature increase in the national parks by one-half to two-thirds by 2100.
Cutting greenhouse gas emissions through energy conservation, improved efficiency, renewable energy, public transit and other actions would reduce the magnitude of human-caused climate change, helping save the U.S. national parks for future generations.
Comment: Carl Landsness
A few scientists and many mystics believe that other forces (besides just human carbon emissions) need to be considered (as part of a bigger picture), if we wish to either change or make peace with situations we consider problematic: long term cosmic and earth core cycles; impact of inner climate on outer climate: i.e. human thoughts, feelings, attitudes and beliefs; the role of higher purpose, perspective and powers (e.g. individual and collective soul, unconscious, hologram).
What ignited many of California’s worst wildfires a mystery
By JULIE WATSON
Sunday, September 23
California officials quickly determined an arsonist started last month’s huge wildfire southeast of Los Angeles, and that two weeks earlier sparks from a vehicle produced a deadly wildfire in the far northern part of the state.
But causes for many of California’s worst blazes of the past decade remain a mystery.
The Associated Press reviewed state data on the 10 largest wildfires and 10 most destructive in terms of homes and buildings burned for each year dating to 2008. Lightning was the most common cause, accounting for about a quarter of those fires, followed by incidents involving power lines.
However, investigators could not determine a cause for about a third of those fires. Experts say each is a missed opportunity to learn something new.
“If we don’t know what causes a fire, we don’t know how to prevent them,” said Carrie Bilbao, a spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center who investigated wildfires in Idaho for 26 years.
Finding the trigger aids criminal prosecutions and helps determine liability. It also guides campaigns to change behavior, like avoiding mowing on hot afternoons when fire threat is high. And it leads to safety enhancements, like sleeves on power lines, which came about when it was determined that falling tree branches and birds cause sparks when they hit unprotected electrical wires.
It’s estimated human activity — from untended campfires to sparks from vehicles — causes more than 80 percent of all wildfires in the United States, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
So far in 2018, wildfires have scorched more than 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometers) in California. More than 2,000 homes and buildings have been destroyed, and at least 11 people killed.
The Mendocino Complex Fire that burned for nearly two months, killing one firefighter and destroying more than 150 homes, is the largest ever recorded in the state at 720 square miles (1,865 square kilometers), an area more than twice the size of New York City. No cause has been determined yet, nor has one been pinpointed for the Ferguson Fire, which prompted the closure of much of Yosemite National Park.
The Holy Fire, southeast of Los Angeles, was quickly determined to be arson. Authorities say the suspect was motivated by a feud with his neighbors in the Cleveland National Forest. The fire prompted evacuation orders for 20,000 people and nearly burned through the community of Lake Elsinore.
Arson was pegged as the cause for only five of California’s most destructive or largest fires of the last decade, according to state records, though officials say the true number likely is much higher. That’s because for arson to be the cause, no other possibility can exist.
So, for example, even if investigators believe an arsonist was responsible for a fire next to a rail line, they may leave the cause undetermined because they can’t rule out a spark from a passing train.
Finding causes that can lead to preventive measures has become more urgent in drought-plagued California. Even as climate change extends the fire season and feeds record-breaking infernos, more homes are being built in rugged areas where fire danger is high.
Three times as much acreage has burned so far this year in California as last year, which produced the Tubbs Fire that was the most destructive in recorded state history and the Thomas Fire that, until this year, was the largest ever.
And the most dangerous months for California wildfires are still to come.
The Carr Fire, the deadliest so far this year with eight fatalities, started in July with a spark from a vehicle. Whipped by winds, the flames exploded into Redding, the largest city in far Northern California. More than 1,000 homes were destroyed.
The driver immediately reported the fire so there was no mystery about how it started. Such quick confirmation is unusual.
“Trying to investigate any kind of fire is almost like trying to investigate a murder — except most of your evidence has been destroyed, and everything around it has been destroyed, by fire,” said Lynne Tolmachoff, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
If lightning maps show no activity in a burn area, the assumption is it was started by humans, and fire investigators immediately head to the spot to cordon it off and protect evidence.
It’s a painstaking process, even when fires are small.
Investigators look at how the vegetation is flattened to determine where the flames originated and track it to the ignition point — usually the coldest spot.
But there are challenges, especially if the fire occurred along a road or other heavily trafficked area. Crews fighting fires can inadvertently wipe out key clues, like carbon particles from a car backfiring or pieces of porcelain from an exploded catalytic converter.
Cellphone photos and videos from witnesses help investigators. Drones provide aerial views of a point of ignition, showing burn patterns and strike marks on power lines, which are hard to see from the ground.
But often it comes down to two possible causes, which results in the cause being declared undetermined and the case being closed unless new evidence appears. Tolmachoff can’t recall an investigation to determine a cause ever reopening.
Last year’s Tubbs and Thomas fires still are under investigation.
Tubbs, in wine country north of San Francisco, destroyed nearly 5,700 structures and killed 22 people. Thomas, in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, killed two people and destroyed more than 1,000 buildings. A month later, heavy rains fell on hills denuded by the fire, unleashing mudslides that killed 21 and left two others missing.
Lawsuits seeking billions in damages have been filed. Concern that California’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., would go bankrupt if it’s found at fault for the Tubbs Fire prompted the Legislature to pass a bill allowing the company to raise utility bills to pay off lawsuits.
Governor Carney joins conservation organizations to recognize importance of outdoor recreation and water quality
Wilmington, DE — Delaware Governor John Carney joined leaders from the Delaware Nature Society and the National Wildlife Federation to test the water quality of the Christina River and release monarch butterflies into the wild. The event at the DuPont Environmental Education Center was part of Trailfest, a celebration of Delaware’s interconnected system of bike paths and greenways.
“Today we enjoyed being outdoors while learning about the water quality of the Christina River,” said Governor John Carney. “We’re committed to preserving our great state so future generations can enjoy a day with their friends and family – like we did today – at Delaware’s state parks, wildlife refuges and on our trails and pathways for years to come.”
The event celebrated the completion of the 8-mile long Jack A. Markell Trail, which connects the Wilmington Riverfront and Old New Castle. The trail consists of an elevated boardwalk, paved pathways and an on-road section that ends at Battery Park.
“The Delaware River and its majestic tributaries, like the Christina, provide world-class opportunities for outdoor recreation. The Jack A. Markell Trail is a powerful example of what’s possible when people come together to connect people with nature and make our communities more bikeable and walkable,” said Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “This trail creates more than a pathway from the Wilmington Riverfront to New Castle, it creates a pathway for people of all walks of life to explore and experience the unrivalled Delaware River Basin. We applaud Governor Carney’s outreach to his fellow governors to create a shared vision for how we can restore a healthy, prosperous Delaware River.”
The Delaware River is a source of drinking water for more than 15 million people and is an important resource for wildlife, recreation and industry. Advocates said the event provided an opportunity for participants to learn about water quality issues affecting the river and its tributaries from sources upstream as well as in Delaware, and that connecting people to water is a great way to get them involved in its restoration and protection.
“We are pleased to showcase the many features of our site that help protect water quality, provide essential habitat for pollinators and wildlife and are part of the trail system that will connect thousands of visitors to our shores,” said Anne Harper, acting Executive Director for the Delaware Nature Society. “This event, and others like it throughout the Delaware River Basin, showcase the reasons that Delaware and other states must work together to protect and restore the Delaware River. As a proud partner in the ‘4 the Delaware’ campaign, we applaud Governor Carney for being a champion in this mission.”
“4 the Delaware” is a campaign to urge the governors of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware to work together to protect the waters of the Delaware River basin. The four states share the river, and advocates believe they should also share the responsibility for continuing efforts to improve its health.
Founded in 1964, Delaware Nature Society works to improve the environment through conservation, advocacy, and education. For more information, visit www.DelNature.org.
The National Wildlife Federation, America’s oldest and largest conservation organization, works across the country to unite Americans from all walks of life in giving wildlife a voice. www.nwf.org.
The Delaware Bay is a sport fishing destination and provides a critical habitat for shorebirds and horseshoe crabs. Above the Bay, the Delaware River provides drinking water for residents of Wilmington and millions of other residents in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. The grassroots “4 the Delaware” campaign seeks to bring the Governors of all four states that share the river – New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware – together in partnership to protect and restore this vital natural resource. https://4thedelaware.nwf.org/
What goes on in our guts
The Ohio State University
Michelle Roley-Roberts and her husband, Ryan, know a lot more about what’s living inside their guts than most.
The Hilliard couple agreed recently to let researchers inspect the bacteria in their intestines in hopes of better understanding the increasingly clear connection between the human mind and intestinal tract.
Researchers at The Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital want to answer questions about what biological differences could contribute to changes in the gut and in cellular-level communication between the gut and the brain.
“This is a really hot area in terms of behavior research, and right now we know relatively little. There’s so much to learn about how the gut and the immune system and the brain interact,” said Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, lead researcher and director of Ohio State’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at the Wexner Medical Center.
Researchers around the world are exploring the gut/brain axis in the quest for knowledge about mood disorders such as depression, neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and chronic conditions such as Crohn’s disease.
The work is based on communications between the enteric nervous system – a network of neurons that run the gastrointestinal tract and are sometimes called “the second brain” – and the central nervous system. The scientists want to better understand the influence of bacteria and other gut microbes on those cellular-level conversations.
Kiecolt-Glaser has built an international reputation on understanding how stress – and stress reduction – shapes human health. In recent years, as she heard more and more from her colleagues about the potential importance of the microbiome, she became fascinated with its role in this relationship.
In the current study, married couples present an opportunity to unearth important information, she said.
“We have a really nice paradigm where there’s likely overlap on a variety of influences including diet, exercise, pets, smoking and alcohol use,” Kiecolt-Glaser said.
But it’s the differences between one partner and the other that might hold the most interest, she said.
“When we look at couples and compare stress levels, we might see important differences. And when we evaluate all of the couples, it’s possible we’ll be able to identify some patterns,” Kiecolt-Glaser said.
The researchers are working with a company called uBiome to analyze fecal samples provided by couples in the study. They aim to analyze 175 couples in all.
“Overall, the greater the diversity of bacteria in your gut, the better your health. We know that exercise, diet and stress can all have an effect on the gut,” said Kiecolt-Glaser. “And some small studies have suggested that depression can affect the microbiome.”
In a recent study, she and her colleagues found that married people who fight nastily are more likely to suffer from a leaky gut – a problem that unleashes bacteria into the blood and can drive up disease-causing inflammation.
Everything from eating sauerkraut to sleeping with your canine best friend has an influence on the complex mix of bacteria that make up a human microbiome. It can change from day to day, and stress, illness and other factors can reshape the gut landscape.
The outside factors that influence the bacterial makeup of the gut are more similar in people who live together because they tend to eat similar things and interact with similar environments – at least when they’re at home.
Roley-Roberts, for instance, doesn’t eat meat (just fish) and does the majority of cooking at home so her husband eats a mostly vegetarian diet as well. When he’s at work, he might grab a turkey sandwich, but he’s eating like his wife most of the time. They have no children, but do live with two cats – Mr. Booters and Mr. Popodopolous. And they’ve been married for two years and lived together for more than a decade.
But they also have different exposures. Roberts works at OhioHealth Doctors Hospital in environmental services; his wife is a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State’s Nisonger Center.
For the study, the husband and wife independently answered questions about their relationship, including about how often they fight, and what their fights are like. They reported what they ate in the last 24 hours. Researchers analyzed fecal samples to analyze their gut bacteria.
The research is underway, so neither the participants nor the scientists know any details about what trends will emerge. But Roley-Roberts and Roberts each have already received a report about their individual microbiome analysis.
“It tells you about what bacteria you have and whether it’s helpful or non-helpful, or rare, compared to other people of your gender and age group with similar diets,” she said.
“As a pescatarian, I could look and compare myself with people who are strict vegans or who are vegetarian.”
Most interesting to Roley-Roberts was the presence in her gut of a microbe that has been linked to overweight and obesity.
“I exercise a lot, and I still struggle more with weight than Ryan does,” she said. “Just based on my gut bacteria, it might be harder for me to keep weight off.”
For his part, Roberts was interested to see that he had much more rare bacteria than his wife.
“I don’t know if it’s genetic, or what I ate as a kid or what, and I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing,” he said, laughing.
Kiecolt-Glaser envisions a day when concrete knowledge about the good guys and bad guys of the microbiome could lead to interventions such as dietary changes or probiotics that could improve health problems, including depression.
The possibilities have many scientists intrigued – and hopeful.
Tamar Gur, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral health, neuroscience and obstetrics and gynecology at Ohio State, has in recent years become fascinated by the brain-gut connection and how it might apply to her investigations involving pregnant women and their babies.
In a recent study in mice, Gur and her colleagues found that prenatal exposure to a mother’s stress contributes to anxiety and cognitive problems that persist into adulthood, a phenomenon that could be explained by lasting changes in the microbiome.
“I think this type of research could allow us to pinpoint mechanisms for health problems and dream up interventions to stop them. This area of research has just exploded in recent years and I don’t think it’s a flash in the pan. I’ve learned too much about the influence of the microbiome to believe that,” Gur said.
She’s particularly interested in how the microbiome might interact with the brain in stressed pregnant women, potentially leading to preterm birth – the leading cause of infant death. Gur is currently working on a study evaluating stress and the microbiome during pregnancy and hopes to also study use of a probiotic during pregnancy.
“My goal is to find a way to offer moms interventions that can benefit both them and their babies,” Gur said.
The possibility that dietary changes or some other approach to disrupting or bolstering the bacterial makeup of the gut wasn’t even on her radar until 2013, when she learned about the work Mike Bailey was doing at Nationwide Children’s, Gur said.
Bailey, an associate professor of microbial infection and immunity at Ohio State and a researcher in the Center for Microbial Pathogenesis at Nationwide Children’s, is working on the married couples research with Kiecolt-Glaser. He also recently partnered with Lisa Christian, a member of Ohio State’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research, on work that found a link between toddlers’ gut microbes and temperament.
Bailey was thinking about the complex microbial community inside the gut decades before it was a topic that jammed meeting rooms at medical and scientific conferences – well before “probiotic” and “prebiotic” were words used to sell the virtues of dietary supplements and yogurt.
Bailey said he’s especially interested in understanding how changes in the gut after stressful events can alter the immune system, potentially clearing the way for disease. Another focus is pinpointing the microbes’ path from gut to spleen, where they can hamper normal, healthy immune function.
Bailey is also excited about the potential to find ways to optimize probiotics so that they are more effective against particular ailments, including irritable bowel syndrome.
When he started out, Bailey said, studying gut microbes involved taking a small fecal sample and putting it in a slide, seeing which bacteria grew and counting how many of them showed up. Technological advances in recent years have allowed scientists to examine the genetics of hundreds of species of gut microbes at once, propelling the science forward.
“We’re getting a clearer and more comprehensive picture of the microbiota and now we’re talking about understanding bacterial communities,” he said.
There’s a lot of ground to cover. While many individuals – and companies – are eager to talk about diet and supplements as ways to fend off disease, “we just don’t have a good enough understanding about the way the body responds,” Bailey said.
There’s much to discover, as well, about how the bacteria in our intestinal tracts contribute to how we metabolize medications, he said.
“So far the push has been to understand which bacteria are in our guts and in what proportions. But that’s a very small part of the story. These bacteria have a tremendous number of functions.”
Misuse of stimulants remains a top concern on college campuses, survey finds
Sharing of prescription drugs an issue, researchers say
Sept. 24, 2018
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Almost 16 percent of college students say they misuse prescription stimulants, often in the quest for better grades, a new survey of U.S. undergraduate, graduate and professional students has found.
And more than 9 percent of students said they had misused pain medications – roughly the same percentage of students who reported non-medical use of sedatives, according to the 2018 College Prescription Drug Study, led by researchers at The Ohio State University.
A majority of students who misuse prescription drugs – including 79 percent of stimulant users, 57 percent of sedative users and 51 percent of pain medication users – said they obtained the drugs from friends.
The research included responses from 19,539 randomly sampled students from 26 U.S. institutions. Undergraduate, graduate and professional students were asked to anonymously answer a series of questions about non-medical prescription drug use and misuse.
Other key findings from this year’s survey include:
28 percent said it’s somewhat or very easy to obtain stimulants, which students primarily use to study or improve grades
20 percent said it’s somewhat or very easy to obtain sedatives, which survey respondents reported using most often for sleep or anxiety relief
16 percent said it’s somewhat or very easy to obtain pain medication, which students use most often to get high or relieve pain
Only 8 percent of respondents said they kept their own prescription drugs in a locked space
79 percent of students who reported misuse said they knew where to get help if they were worried about misuse
More than half – 55 percent – of pain medication users reported that they had not used the drugs in the past year.
“This data helps inform programming, services and our ongoing conversations with students,” said Anne McDaniel, executive director of Ohio State’s Center for the Study of Student Life.
Ohio State began prescription drug misuse studies in 2008; the first multi-institutional College Prescription Drug Study was conducted in 2015. The work is done collaboratively by Ohio State’s Center for the Study of Student Life, Student Life Student Wellness Center and the College of Pharmacy.
“One of our major findings is how many students who misuse prescription drugs are getting those pills from fellow students,” McDaniel said. “A vast majority of our survey respondents aren’t keeping their medications in a locked, secure place and that’s worrisome.”
The study found that 21 percent of students with a prescription for stimulant medication had given it to a friend or peer in the previous 12 months and 11 percent of respondents with a stimulant prescription reported selling it to a friend or peer in the previous year.
McDaniel also noted the high percentage of students who said they are anxious and use the prescriptions to self-medicate. Almost half of students who said they used sedatives, and about a third who misused pain pills, cited anxiety as one of their reasons for doing so.
“According to the national research, feelings of anxiety and anxiety diagnoses have really increased in the last decade, and the data shows that some students report that they deal with their anxiety by taking medications that aren’t prescribed to them,” she said.
University leaders nationwide are looking for ways to connect students with appropriate support and medical resources, and to help them build healthy coping skills, said Blake Marble, director of Ohio State’s Student Life Student Wellness Center.
The survey results will help guide efforts to educate students about prescription drug misuse in the hopes of preventing problems including addiction, injury and death, he said.
At Ohio State, one particular focus is a “social norms” campaign that aims to correct misperceptions that students may have about drug and alcohol misuse, Marble said.
“Sometimes students think that most other students are engaging in risky behaviors, when in fact that’s not the case,” he said. “First-year students, especially, are coming to campus and thinking ‘Wow, college is going to be a party scene,’ when, in fact, that is not the case for the vast majority of students.
“We want to correct some of those misperceptions that are out there. We want to show the students true data to help them get a grasp on the climate at Ohio State and other universities,” Marble said.
Though prescription drug misuse is an issue for a minority of students, Marble said he is particularly concerned about stimulant use – which students say they may use both to enhance classroom and study performance and to enhance social situations.
“The stimulant misuse data is not terribly surprising, but it is quite concerning. A lot of students misuse Ritalin and Adderall and those types of drugs because they think it will help them to study and improve their grades,” said Nicole Kwiek, assistant dean for undergraduate studies in Ohio State’s College of Pharmacy.
Of particular concern is the mixing of stimulants with other drugs and with alcohol, which can be deadly, she said. Among those students who said they misused stimulants, 41 percent reported combining them with alcohol, although most said they’d done that “rarely.”
Kwiek said she was surprised to learn that many students who misuse medication say they are doing it more for self-medication than to get high.
The survey highlights an opportunity for Ohio State and other academic institutions to look for ways to educate students about prescription medications – from proper use and risks of misuse, to secure storage in the interest of preventing others from taking the drugs, she said.
“Just like we teach a lot of basic life skills in college, shouldn’t we be teaching people about this in college as well?” Kwiek said.
“This information is so valuable because it helps us understand what people are using, how they’re using it and what their perceptions are about that use,” she said. “This is the kind of data that helps colleges figure out how best to run prevention campaigns.”
For more details about the Ohio State study, contact the study team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Misti Crane