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Sharing and Selling of Prescription Medications in a College Student Sample

J Clin Psychiatry 2010;71(3):262-269
10.4088/JCP.09m05189ecr

Objective: To estimate the prevalence of prescription medication diversion among college students; to compare classes of medications with respect to the likelihood of diversion; to document the most common methods of diversion; and to examine the characteristics of students who diverted medications.

Method: A cross-sectional analysis of personal interview data collected between August 2006 and August 2007 as part of an ongoing longitudinal study. The cohort of students, who were between the ages of 17 and 19 years at study onset, attended a large public university in the mid-Atlantic region. Information was gathered regarding a wide variety of variables, including demographics, diversion of medically prescribed drugs, illicit drug use, and childhood conduct problems.

Results: Among 483 students prescribed a medication, 35.8% diverted a medication at least once in their lifetime. The most commonly diverted medication classes were prescription attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder medication (61.7% diversion rate) and prescription analgesics (35.1% diversion rate). Sharing was the most common method of diversion, with 33.6% of students sharing their medication(s) and 9.3% selling in their lifetime. Comparative analyses revealed that prescription medication diverters had used more illicit drugs in the past year and had more childhood conduct problems than nondiverters.

Conclusion: If confirmed, these findings have important clinical implications for improved physician-patient communication and vigilance regarding prescribing analgesic and stimulant medications for young adults.

J Clin Psychiatry 2010;71(3):262–269

Submitted: March 3, 2009; accepted April 23, 2009.

Corresponding author: Amelia M. Arria, PhD, Center on Young Adult Health & Development, University of Maryland, 8400 Baltimore Ave, Ste 100, College Park, MD 20740 (aarria@umd.edu).