Editor’s Note: Connor Smith is a pseudonym. The student’s real name is concealed to protect his privacy.
Connor Smith was a freshman in high school when his family lost their health insurance. By junior year, his mental health had deteriorated. Due to his family’s inability to pay for health services, he began to self-medicate using Xanax purchased off the black market.
At the time, he thought this was his only realistic option. When he came to college, Smith continued without health insurance for more than two years.
According to Lookout Mountain Group, a nonpartisan collection of college health professionals and experts in healthcare reform, 1.7 million college students in the US do not have health insurance — about 10 percent of undergraduate students.
UT offers resources to combat this issue that low-income students face. Appointments at University Health Services are $10, even for those without health insurance.
Terry Weaver, chief of Pharmacy Services at Forty Acres Pharmacy, said UT tries to offer discounts however they can to students without health insurance. Weaver also said the generic brand of Xanax, called alprazolam, is fairly affordable at the pharmacy.
“When they’re saying they had to resort to purchasing it off the street, that sounds like more of an issue of access to healthcare,” Weaver said. “Our regular price is $18 for thirty pills and there’s no way that you’re going to find someone selling them for that price on the black market.”
The pharmacy’s price is less than what Smith said he was paying for his illegally obtained Xanax.
The Forty Acres Pharmacy legally offers what Smith needed at a cheaper price, but Weaver and Smith say the issue of access to health care is complex.
“When you come from a background of not being in the habit of reaching out or accessing health resources, that (makes) it a little harder to reach out for help,” Smith said.
Smith said he had been so accustomed to not going to the doctor as a kid that he did not think to dig around to see what resources UT might offer. He assumed there would not be realistic, affordable options for him.
“At the time it was just easy for me to buy Xanax,” Smith said.
In an email, Michael Hole, assistant professor of Pediatrics, Population Health and Public Policy, said the current US healthcare system impedes low-income Americans from accessing necessary care.
“There are some options, albeit few, for uninsured patients who cannot afford health care or medicines,” Hole said. “Too many Americans, fettered by their ability to pay, lack access to good primary care.”
Smith said UHS has done what they could to help him when he did not have health insurance. Ultimately, a great part of the problem was assuming he would not be able to access the necessary health services because they had been unobtainable for so much of his life.
“I had no idea you could get Xanax for that cheap,” Smith said. “I assumed that if STD testing was expensive (for me), then mental health medication would (also) be expensive.”