Psychologists find prescription drug abuse problem among university students

In nearly 45% of cases, drugs are prescribed by doctors, which means non-medical use continues after prescription expires

The study also shows that 14% of respondents had been prescribed drugs by their doctors at least once in their lifetime
The study also shows that 14% of respondents had been prescribed drugs by their doctors at least once in their lifetime

An anonymous online questionnaire among 347 university students has revealed that 13% of university students have misused prescription drugs containing opioids, depressants or stimulants, at least once in their life, taking them without or not according to a doctor’s prescription.

Half of the respondents also admitted making use of products which contain opioids, normally prescribed as painkillers.

While 8% misused prescription drugs in the previous year, less than 1% misused these drugs in the previous month.

The study also shows that 14% of respondents had been prescribed drugs by their doctors at least once in their lifetime.

This emerges from a study published in the Journal of Health Sciences, authored by Marlyn Clarke and Maria Fenech from the Department of Psychology, which investigates the non-medical use of prescription drugs among university students.

The questionnaire was sent to the entire student population at the University of Malta (11,500) but only 347 answered. The authors suggested caution given the low response rate.

The non-medical use of prescription drugs was defined as “the taking of prescription drugs, whether obtained by prescription or otherwise, other than in the manner or for the reasons or time period described, or by a person for whom the drug was not prescribed.”

Of the 347 students who completed the questionnaire, 7% reported once in a lifetime non-medical use of opioids found in products like Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet or Kadian, Avinza and codeine. 4.2% had misused these products in the previous year.

3.5% reported lifetime non-medical use of CNS depressants found in benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax and barbiturates found in Mebaral, Luminal and Nembutal.

2.8% reported lifetime non-medical use of CNS stimulants found in products like Ritalin, Concerta, Dexedrine and Adderall.

In this research, the two most popular ages of initiation to prescription drug use were 16 and 18. 20% of the students were 16 years old when they first made use of prescription drugs and 14% were 18 years old.

This specific study has shown how opioids are the most commonly-used prescription drugs and are used both according to medical practice (by prescription) and otherwise.

Opioids are mainly prescribed for pain relief, but if taken in high doses they may bring about euphoria and have high-abuse potential. While young adults may be taking these medications initially for pain relief, 7% of respondents claim to have used opioids in the absence of a doctor’s prescription.

The study also reveals that 10% of respondents sometimes mix alcohol with prescription drugs while 16.4% do so rarely.

One in five said they got drugs without prescription from pharmacies.

In nearly 45% of cases the drugs had been “previously prescribed” by a doctor. This suggests that most non-medical use of these drugs is the result of consuming the drugs after the prescription expired.

Furthermore in 22% of cases the misused drugs had been obtained without a prescription from a pharmacy. 16% had obtained the drugs from somebody. Nearly 2% obtained the drugs through fake prescriptions.

Of those who had the drug previously prescribed by doctor, 19% reported taking prescription drugs to self-medicate. 4% reported using the drugs because they were curious, 2% reported using the drugs to feel relaxed and nearly 2% reported using the drugs to feel high.

 

Women more stressed

Slightly higher rates of lifetime use and ‘last year’ use of opioids and depressants were reported by females.

Females also reported experiencing more stress at University than males. While 33% of females find life at university “very stressful”, only 19% of males relate the same experience.

Of those who reported taking these drugs without prescription, 34% reported having first used the substance in most cases with a prescription, between the age of 11 to 16.

The study recommends guidelines for prescription practices to ensure that while persons who need prescription drugs, have access to them, this does not result in unnecessary prescriptions for these drugs. It also recommends education programmes on how to use medicines safely and store and dispose of them appropriately. Medical practitioners need to be trained to be able to assess and identify individuals at risk of making non-medical use of these drugs.

According to the authors of the study the results indicate that University students may be at “heightened risk due to the stresses of academic life and perhaps due to the fact that almost half of the sample were also working while pursuing an academic career”.

Of the 347 students who completed the questionnaire, 7% reported once in a lifetime non-medical use of opioids found in products like Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet or Kadian, Avinza and codeine. 4.2% had misused these products in the previous year.

3.5% reported lifetime non-medical use of CNS depressants found in benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax and barbiturates found in Mebaral, Luminal and Nembutal.

2.8% reported lifetime non-medical use of CNS stimulants found in products like Ritalin, Concerta, Dexedrine and Adderall.

More in National

Get access to the real stories first with the digital edition

Subscribe