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Prescription Drug Misuse

Prescription drugs have contributed to some major advances in public health that are largely the result of vaccines and antibiotics. However, prescription drugs are the second most commonly abused category of drugs, behind marijuana and ahead of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs.

Non-medical prescription drug use is the use of over-the-counter (OTC) or a prescription drug for anything other than the drug's intended purpose, by someone other than the intended recipient, and in a dosage other than prescribed.

National Data

  • Alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and marijuana continue to be the drugs of choice on college campuses
  • Demographics of those most at-risk: male, Caucasian, fraternity and sorority-affiliated, highly competitive academic cultures, four-year institutions, those with higher family incomes, and those with lower and declining GPAs.
  • Full-time college students who used Adderall non-medically in the past year were more likely to have used other drugs.
  • Medically supervised drug use shows no greater risk for illicit drug use.
  • Of those who received non-medical prescription drugs, 58% of college students got them from their peers, were 8 times more likely to use marijuana, and 4 times more likely to binge drink.
  • 68% of college students got diverted stimulant medications from their peers, of which they were 24 times more likely to use marijuana and 7 times more likely to binge drink.
  • Approximately 50% of college students prescribed stimulant medication for ADHD are approached to divert their medication to others.

Why Non-Medical Prescription Drug Use?

Students receive non-medical prescription drugs from various sources, most commonly from friends and family. Other common sources include purchasing from a friend/relative, drug dealer, or on the Internet using a physician's prescription.

The relatively low cost, perceived safety, ease of access, and anticipated positive effects contribute to reasons students use non-medical prescription drugs. Below is a list of other common reasons for misuse:

  • Extend a night of partying
  • Alleviate temporary symptoms of physical pain, anxiety, panic attacks or depression
  • Means to relax
  • Increase focus or concentration (Increase focus or concentration: Learn more about so-called "study drugs")
  • Method to lose weight
  • Counteract effects of other drugs (e.g., marijuana) and/or withdrawal symptoms (hallucinations, stomach a muscle cramping, tremor, and unusual behavior)
  • Treat longer-term insomnia and alleviate worsening symptoms of underlying mental disorder symptoms