Prescription Drug Misuse in High School & College Students

prescription drugThe percentage of teens in the United States who use illicit drugs continues to decline; however, the use of prescription drugs remains too high.[1] The concerns about marijuana and alcohol, the two most frequently misused substances by teens, have obscured the problem of increasing prescription drug misuse.1

The non-medical use of psychoactive substances is labeled as abuse.1 Abuse is characterized as a pattern of substance use that results in negative consequences and impairment.1 Dependence requires a pattern of substance use and impairment in the presence of noticeable cognitive, behavioral, and physiological symptoms.1

According to the 2005 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, people aged 18 to 25 years were found to have the highest prevalence of prescription drug misuse.1 Only second to marijuana, prescription drugs are the most common substances abused by undergraduate college students.1 In adolescents, aged 12 to 17, three percent reported abusing prescription drugs within the last year.1 Also, one in five students in grades seven through 12 reported using prescription medicines that were not prescribed to them.1

The most popular misused prescription drugs in adolescents aged 12 to 17 are analgesics, followed by stimulants, tranquilizers, and sedatives.1 In fact, one in 10 high school seniors have taken hydrocodone in the past year, and 26 percent of 10th graders report misusing oxycodone.1

A national survey that randomly selected 10,904 four-year college students showed that the lifetime prevalence of misuse of benzodiazepine anxiolytics was 7.8 percent.1 Misuse was more likely to occur among students who were Caucasian, bisexual, and had higher rates of substance abuse and other risky behaviors.1 Misuse of prescription benzodiazepines were least likely to occur among college students who attended school in the north central region, as well as those who attended historically black colleges and universities.1

Prescription stimulant misuse is the highest among certain college students: males, Caucasians, fraternity or sorority members, and those with lower grade point averages.1 It has also been found that nonmedical prescription stimulant use was higher with more competitive admission standards, membership in fraternities or sororities, and a higher family income or socioeconomic status.1

Prescription drug misuse by adolescents and college students is likely caused by the drugs’ perception of being “safe.”1 McCabe and colleagues surveyed adolescents and found that 40 percent thought prescription medicines were much safer to use than illegal drugs, with 29 percent believing that prescription pain relievers were not addictive and 31 percent stating there was nothing wrong with using prescription medicines without a prescription every so often.1

When asked about their motivation to misuse opioid analgesics, 80 percent of high school students stated they used the drugs to relieve pain, 16 percent stated they used them as a sleeping aid, 20 percent said they used them to get high, and three percent said they felt they were safer than street drugs.1 In another survey, 69 percent of adolescents reported using opioid medication solely for pain control and 79 percent reported that pain relief was at least one motivating factor.1

Motivations to use prescription stimulants among college students were to improve concentration, enhance alertness, and to get high. Performance enhancement remains the most common reason for stimulant use among college students, and it is often diverted from the person to which it has been prescribed.1

Nearly half of adolescents, college students, and young adults who abuse prescription drugs state that they receive them for free from a relative or friend.1 Ten percent purchase them from someone they know, and another 10 percent steal them.1 They are easier to get than illicit drugs.1

Misuse and diversion of prescription medicines among high school and college students is an increasingly common problem.

[1] Bukstein, O. (2008, January 1). Prescription Drug Misuse in Youths Diversion of Prescription Drugs by High School and College Students Is on the Rise Drugs Mentioned in This Article References Evidence-Based References. Psychiatric Times. Retrieved November 19, 2013, from http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/amphetamine-related-disorders/prescription-drug-misuse-youths-diversion-prescription-drugs-high-school-and-college-students-rise

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