Originally published on Savvy Auntie.
A recent study reported by HealthDay News found that “[prescription] drug abuse among American college students is linked to depression and suicidal thoughts…” Researchers noted that the association was strongest when painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin were involved.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines prescription drug abuse as equivalent to what is called “nonmedical use” – “the use of medication without a prescription, in a way other than as prescribed, or for the experience or feelings elicited.” NIDA reports that several national surveys have found prescription drug abuse – involving medications for pain, attention deficit disorders, and anxiety – to come second only to marijuana among illicit drug users.
Prescription drug abuse is highest among young adults (18-25) according to a 2010 research report by NIDA; following 12th graders over a five-year period, NIDA researchers found that the students had obtained prescription opioids for nonmedical use from friends or relatives.
According to the HealthDay article, the 2008 American College Health Association National College Assessment survey collected data from more than 26,000 college students and 40 college campuses. Students were asked about nonmedical use of prescription drug painkillers, stimulants, sedatives, and antidepressants; they were also questioned about past mental health symptoms over the course of the previous year.
The results of the survey revealed that about 13% of the participants reported nonmedical use of prescription drugs – students who reported feeling “hopeless, sad, depressed or had considered suicide were much more likely to abuse prescription drugs” (HealthDay). Researchers found the association between depression – among other mental health woes – and prescription drug abuse to be especially strong amongst female students who used painkillers.
The study’s co-author, Amanda Divin, assistant professor of health sciences at Western Illinois University, gave her take on the research:
“Unfortunately, all drugs potentially have dangerous side effects. As our study demonstrates, use of prescription drugs – particularly painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin – is related to depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts and behaviors in college students. This is why use of such drugs needs to be monitored by a doctor and why mental health outreach on college campuses is particularly important… Considering how common prescription sharing is on college campuses and the prevalence of mental health issues during the college years, more investigation in this area is definitely warranted.”
As was revealed in the NIDA 2010 study, Divin pointed out that since “prescription drugs are tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and prescribed by a doctor, most people perceive them as ‘safe’ and don’t see the harm in sharing with friends and family if they have a few extra pills left over.”
So, how can Aunties help their college nieces and nephews by preventing and recognizing prescription drug abuse? Below are a few tips for patients provided by NIDA.
Take steps to ensure that they use prescription medications appropriately:
-Make sure they’re following the prescribed directions.
-Be aware of potential interactions with other drugs they may be taking.
-Remind them to never stop or change a dosing regimen without first discussing it with a healthcare provider.
-Never let them use another person’s prescription, including your own.
-Tell them to describe all medical problems and to always inform healthcare professionals about all prescriptions, OTC medicines, and dietary and herbal supplements they are taking before obtaining new medications.
-Have them properly discard any unused or expired medications per U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines or at U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration collection sites.