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If You’re a College Student Abusing Prescription Drugs, Read This

Published December 13, 2012

BUFFALO, NY – In its ongoing mission to raise community awareness of the latest trends in substance use and abuse, the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) announced receipt of a new grant and release of an expert summary on the subject of prescription drug abuse.

Kathleen A. Parks, PhD, a RIA senior research scientist, has won a SUNY/RF Collaborative Research Fund Award to study and collect specific information on the prevalence as well as motives and consequences associated with non-medical prescription drug (NMPD) use among SUNY students.

The grant is funded for two years and provides $50,000 annually to gather preliminary data that can later be used in support of applications for larger federally funded grants.

“NMPD use has been steadily increasing on college campuses nationally over the past few decades. While we know the general characteristics of the drugs being used, and some of the characteristics of students who typically report using these drugs, less is known about the reasons for their use and even less is known about the consequences students experience,” said Parks.

Parks says that NMPD use is an urgent public health issue and New York State Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently enacted legislation called the I-STOP Law in an effort to curb the epidemic of prescription drug abuse.

In response to the significance of this problem, the RIA is also releasing the sixth in its series of expert summaries, a fact sheet titled “RIA Reaching Others: Prescription Drug Abuse.”

This summary, intended to educate health consumers and health providers, defines what prescription drug abuse is, what drugs are most commonly abused, how prescription drug abuse is treated and explains what the I-STOP Law is.

RIA Director Kenneth Leonard, PhD, says that prescription drug abuse knows no age boundaries – it has been increasing among adolescents, college students, adults and the elderly for the past 15 years.

“The drugs are safe when prescribed by a physician and taken as prescribed by the person for whom the medication was intended. But when prescription drugs are abused, they are dangerous, addictive and withdrawal can be deadly,” said Leonard.

According to the expert summary, NMPD and prescription abuse are characterized as the use of a medication without a physician's prescription; the use of a medication other than how it was prescribed; or the use of a medication for the experience or feeling that the drug causes.

The most commonly abused drugs, Leonard says, are opioids like Vicodin and Oxycontin, central nervous system depressants such as Valium and Xanax and stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin.

RIA recently hosted the two-day conference, “The Challenge of Reducing College Student Substance Use,” which brought together frontline staff from throughout the SUNY system who grapple with the real problems of college student alcohol and substance use. The purpose of the conference was to raise awareness and share best practices for intervention.

Just as the conference convened experts from across the SUNY system, Parks’ grant-funded study will be a collaboration among researchers on SUNY campuses in Buffalo, Binghamton and Albany. During the initial phase of the research, 100 students who report use of NMPDs during their tenure at UB will be recruited to participate in confidential focus group discussions.

The second phase of the research will involve distribution of a web-based survey to students on the three SUNY campuses to assess the prevalence of NMPD use, motives for and consequences of use.

“Learning more about both positive and negative perception of NMPD use from individuals who use these drugs will be an important component for developing programs to reduce NMPD use on college campuses,” said Parks.

“This is ultimately the goal of this line of research.”

To access “RIA Reaching Others: Prescription Drug Abuse” expert summary go here.

To access previous summaries, go here.