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Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2015 May;50(5):713-24. doi: 10.1007/s00127-014-0980-3. Epub 2014 Nov 27.

Nonmedical prescription drug use among US young adults by educational attainment.

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Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, 722 West 168th Street, Rm. 509, New York, NY, 10032, USA,



Little is known about nonmedical use of prescription drugs among non-college-attending young adults in the United States.


Data were drawn from 36,781 young adults (ages 18-22 years) from the 2008-2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health public use files. The adjusted main effects for current educational attainment, along with its interaction with gender and race/ethnicity, were considered.


Compared to those attending college, non-college-attending young adults with at least and less than a HS degree had a higher prevalence of past-year nonmedical use of prescription opioids [NMUPO 13.1 and 13.2 %, respectively, vs. 11.3 %, adjusted odds ratios (aORs) 1.21 (1.11-1.33) and 1.25 (1.12-1.40)], yet lower prevalence of prescription stimulant use. Among users, regardless of drug type, non-college-attending youth were more likely to have past-year disorder secondary to use [e.g., NMUPO 17.4 and 19.1 %, respectively, vs. 11.7 %, aORs 1.55 (1.22-1.98) and 1.75 (1.35-2.28)]. Educational attainment interacted with gender and race: (1) among nonmedical users of prescription opioids, females who completed high school but were not enrolled in college had a significantly greater risk of opioid disorder (compared to female college students) than the same comparison for men; and (2) the risk for nonmedical use of prescription opioids was negligible across educational attainment groups for Hispanics, which was significantly different than the increased risk shown for non-Hispanic whites.


There is a need for young adult prevention and intervention programs to target nonmedical prescription drug use beyond college campuses.

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