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Sources of Prescription Medication Misuse Among Young Adults in the United States: The Role of Educational Status

J Clin Psychiatry 2018;79(2):17m11958
10.4088/JCP.17m11958

Objective: This study examined prescription drug misuse (PDM), sources of PDM, and substance use disorder (SUD) symptoms as a function of educational status among US young adults based on a large nationally representative sample.

Methods: Data from the 2009–2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health came from a sample of 106,845 young adults aged 18–25 years. Respondents were categorized by educational status and PDM, sources of PDM, other substance use, and SUD symptoms, with analyses performed separately for prescription opioids, stimulants, and sedatives/tranquilizers.

Results: Prescription opioid (past-year: 11.9%) and sedative/tranquilizer (past-year: 5.8%) misuse were most prevalent among young adults not attending college, especially among high school dropouts. In contrast, full-time college students and college graduates had the highest rates of prescription stimulant misuse (past-year: 4.3% and 3.9%, respectively). Obtaining prescription medications from friends/relatives for free was the most common source of PDM, especially among college students/graduates. Prescription drug misusers who obtained medications from theft/fake prescriptions, purchases, or multiple sources were more likely to report past-year SUDs and had the most severe overall risk profile of concurrent substance use and SUD. More than 70% of past-month prescription drug misusers who reported multiple sources for PDM had at least 1 past-year SUD.

Conclusions: Sources of PDM vary by educational status among US young adults, and the college environment is associated with sharing prescription medications. Clinicians can help assess an individual’s risk for SUD by determining whether the individual engaged in PDM and the source of prescription medication the individual is misusing.