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

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

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Center for the Study of Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking and Health, School of Nursing, University of Michigan, 426 N. Ingalls St, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.
Center for the Study of Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking and Health, School of Nursing, and Institute for Research on Women and Gender, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.
Department of Pharmacy Practice, College of Pharmacy, University of New England, Portland, Maine, USA.
Pediatric and Adult Psychopharmacology Units, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Department of Psychology, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas, USA.



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.


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.


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.


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.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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