The nonmedical use of prescription drugs is a serious health problem among U.S. youth.
University of Michigan scientists surveyed almost 1,100 middle and high school students in one southeastern Michigan school district to determine why students engage in the nonmedical use of four classes of prescription medications (sleep aids, sedatives/anxiolytics, stimulants, and opioid analgesics) and to examine if such motivations were associated with a higher risk of substance abuse problems.
The researchers found that 12 percent of the respondents had engaged in the nonmedical use of opioid pain medications during the previous 12 months. In addition, three percent had nonmedically used sleeping medications, two percent had nonmedically used sedatives/tranquilizers, and two percent had nonmedically used stimulants.
Motivations varied by drug classification. Although 69 percent of respondents who used pain medications used them solely for pain control and 79 percent endorsed pain relief as at least one motivation for their use, 11 percent said they used the drugs to get high.
For the nonmedical use of stimulant medications, 29 percent gave only one motive to use stimulants (i.e., to help with concentration or alertness) and 21 percent endorsed several motivations, the most frequently mentioned of which were to “get high,” “help with concentration,” or “increase my alertness.”
The most frequently cited reasons for the use of sedatives and tranquilizers were to help with sleep, to decrease anxiety, and to get high.
The researchers also found evidence that the nonmedical use of prescription medications is associated with an increase in general substance abuse problems, particularly with opioid analgesics.
When the students noted multiple motivations for the nonmedical use of prescription opioid medications, the scientists observed that each additional motivation carried a greater likelihood of scoring higher on the Drug Abuse Screening Test (DAST-10).
However, the authors suggest that there may be two distinct groups of non-medical users of prescription drugs: those who self-medicate and those who use for other reasons, including to experiment and get high. The latter seem to be at greater risk for other forms of substance abuse.
What it means
This study further emphasizes the problem of prescription drug abuse among the Nation’s youth, highlighting the motivations for abuse of these medications and their link to future substance abuse problems.
These findings suggest that future research is necessary to better understand the reasons for the nonmedical use of prescription medications and to evaluate which nonmedical prescription drug abusers are at greatest risk for developing further substance abuse problems.
Dr. Carol Boyd and her colleagues published their findings in the December 2006 issue of Pediatrics.