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Study Examines Changes in Prescription Drug Misuse Among College Students

A study published in the June 2014 issue of Addictive Behaviors examined how prescription drug use among college students has changed over the last 10 years. Researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor surveyed full-time undergraduates during the winter semesters of 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013.

The students answered questions on a website about demographics as well as lifetime and past-year use of four types of prescription drugs, including sleep medications, sedative or anxiety medications, stimulants and opioids or pain medications. The study was based on a cross-sectional design that measured the nonmedical use of the drugs.

More Students Report Nonmedical Use of Stimulants

The researchers found that the students surveyed in the more recent years were more likely to report nonmedical use of stimulants when compared to students who took the first set of surveys. In 2013, students were 1.6 times more likely to have used stimulants for nonmedical purposes when compared to students completing the surveys in 2003.

The trend was reversed when it came to opioid prescription drugs. Compared to 2003, the use of opioids was down, with students half as likely to report use in 2013 compared with students in 2003.

There was no significant change over the course of the decade related to the misuse of sleep medications or sedative/anxiety medications.

The authors discuss several limitations that could affect the applicability of the results. For instance, the survey was conducted only at one large public university. The findings may have reflected a different trend if it had been conducted at multiple universities or if it had included smaller schools or private colleges. The data was also self-reported, which comes with a bias of how students want to remember behaviors or it can reflect the students’ attitude about drug use instead of their actual behaviors.

Changes in Facilities and Courses Could Impact Drug Use

The article notes that changes to administration, facilities and courses can impact the environment at a college and possibly impact substance use. Studies like these may lead to the ability of administrators, professors and other staff on campus to identify the types of changes in a college that can contribute to increases in nonmedical use of prescription drugs.

When addressing the misuse of prescription drugs, college administrators could explore the motivations students have for using each type of drug. When it comes to using stimulants to boost academic performance, education could be provided to help students learn to balance the pressures of campus life and find other ways to excel academically.

Posted on September 29th, 2014
Posted in Young Adults

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