By Michael Robinson

After a night of heavy drinking, clubbing and unprotected sex, Jessica woke up having unknowingly contracted a chlamydia infection.

The first-year student later discovered she had caught the sexually transmitted infection (STI) a week after sleeping with her partner.

“I found out when I was on vacation,” said Jessica, who requested anonymity. “It wasn’t exactly the call I wanted to receive.”

Upon returning to Ottawa, the general arts and science student visited a nearby walk-in clinic.

After seeing a doctor, flipping the pharmacist her student card and with a prescription pad chalked full of antibiotics later, Jessica’s unexpected ailment was on its way to being cured.

But it wasn’t just the azithromycin and doxycycline that Jessica chose to fall back on that day.

Fortunately for her, the Algonquin Students’ Association health plan she was enrolled in meant the cost of the prescribed medications would be 80 per cent cheaper.

“I’m thankful for (the coverage),” Jessica said. “But I was especially (thankful) when I found out I get the money I paid for the medicine back.”

But she isn’t the only Algonquin student who is using her health plan.
Aggregated data provided by the SA has indicated which medications students are relying on the most, according to claims made through their prescription drug benefit plan.

The winner at the top of the list?


They weigh in as one of the most claimed prescription drug expenses at Algonquin, numbers recently released by the Students
Association (SA) show.

“(Antidepressants) are the top drug,” said Don Macrae, manager of the SAs administrative services. “They have been, traditionally, for the past five to six years.”

The SA, which is in charge of the student health and dental insurance plans at the college, have revealed statistics that show there were $99,829 worth of antidepressants claimed throughout the 2011-2012 academic year, the most recent numbers available. Of the total 11,729 claims, nearly 20 per cent were for antidepressants.

The second most-claimed medications were methadone and inhalers, although methadone claim numbers are high due to the small group of students prescribed them that have to fill a prescription daily.

The college’s antidepressant use is consistent with a recently released national report that suggests Canadians are the world
s third highest users of the drugs, downing 86 daily doses for every 1,000 people per day in 2011 according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. All this has happened while Canadian spending on private health insurance has more than doubled over the past 20 years, the latest results in a study published last week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

“We do know that one in five Canadians will suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime so it would follow that a similar proportion of students are experiencing mental health issues and some would be prescribed medication to help,” said a representative from the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre.

“Given the prevalence of mental illness, it’s important for all students to focus on mental wellness and keeping their minds healthy.”

Recognizing the increased demand for antidepressants at Algonquin last year, the SA
provided the college with funding last year to support the iCopeU student mental health online web portal. Through guest speakers like mental health advocate Theo Fleury, the SA hopes to bolster alternative measures to assist students with mental health issues. The event was co-sponsored by Student Support Services who also organized pet therapy sessions throughout the semester during midterm exams.

By default, every Algonquin activity fee paying student must pay into into SA’s health and dental insurance plans, which covers prescription drugs, dental and other health care services. Opting out is only reserved for those who can provide proof of private insurance. Students in a 1998 SA-organized referendum voted in favour of the mandatory enrolment.

This has provided a security net for students like Amanda Monette, who do not have private health insurance.

My parents don’t have insurance because my dad works for himself,” she said. “That is why I kept my plan at the college.”
The second-year dental hygiene student had just finished receiving two fillings at the college’s dental clinic at the cost of $130, a charge of which she was required to pay on the spot.

You have to pay upfront and bill the insurance company later,” she said. “But some people could have a hard time coming up with the money, especially on a tight budget.”

But the process is worth it for Amanpreet Ressi, who used
the plan when he woke up with congested with no voice and puffed-up eyes. The prescription drug coverage allowed Ressi to claim 80 per cent of his prescribed medication’s cost.

If the coverage wasn’t necessary, they wouldn’t have included it in tuition,” the first-year automotive technician student said.
Yet for those who consider birth control a necessity, they’ll find themselves out of luck. The current prescription drug policy excludes the coverage of oral contraceptives.

This has left some female students, like Monette, concerned.

People who are on oral contraceptives are taking it not just to prevent pregnancy but for other health reasons as well; so, I don’t think they should discriminate against that,” said Monette, who purchases her birth control through an off-campus pharmacy.

The SA policy is contrary to the health coverage offered by other post-secondary student associations in Ottawa. Both the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) and the Carleton University Student Association (CUSA) allow claims upwards of $200 that cover most oral contraceptives.

The SA said while it
has “entertained” the idea of including contraceptives in the plan in the past, it has not done so because of the significant increase in fees that would result.

Health services
has since offered students seeking birth control the option to purchase it at cost.