Young Adults Taking Medications Without a Prescription Have a Higher Risk for Drug Abuse
College kids are stepping out into the wider world usually for the first time. They are learning not only facts and theories but hopefully how to think and reason well. Many of them, like the rest of us, will stumble through the learning process a bit. A new study reveals how prescription drugs can easily become a source of drug abuse among this population. Both young people and their prescribing doctors should be alert to the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
There are more prescription drugs on the market and in family medicine cabinets than ever before. Whether it is because there are more recognized conditions to be treated or whether it is because there are more drugs being developed, the glut of medications has spawned an epidemic of prescription drug abuse. College kids who are taking personal responsibility for their medications perhaps for the first time in their young lives are proving to be a particularly vulnerable demographic.
A new study out of the University of Michigan surveyed more than 3,500 college students to find out about their prescription drug habits. As part of the study, students were asked about their use of four types of prescription drugs: stimulants, opioids (painkillers), anxiety medications and sedatives (sleep aids). Students were asked if they had prescriptions for any of these medications, had used any of these medications without a prescription or if they had experienced problems in some way related to drug use.
Close to 60 percent of the respondents said they had used at least one of the four types of drugs. Fewer than half (39.7 percent) of the students said that they had a prescription for the drugs they reported using. Just over four percent (4.4 percent) said they used the medications without any prescription. Close to 16 percent (15.8 percent) reported using the medications for medical and non-medical reasons, with and without a prescription.
The questions about drug related problems such as withdrawal experiences, illegally obtaining medications, or health problems which came as a result of using the medications were designed to screen students for drug abuse. The study clearly showed that college students who used prescription drugs for which they did not have a prescription were much more likely to also screen positively for drug abuse. It did not seem to matter whether or not the student felt they were taking the drug for a medical reason. If they took the drug without a prescription, they scored higher for drug abuse than did students who never used the drugs or who took them only when they had a valid prescription for them.
Doctors who prescribe these medications – which are particularly vulnerable to abuses – to college age patients need to carefully monitor the patient and the medication prescription rate. Parents who send kids off to college with prescriptions for these medications also need to keep a watchful eye. Ultimately, the students themselves need to be educated about the risk they have for substance abuse.