Prescription Drug Abuse

In recent years, the non-medical use of prescription drugs has become an increasing problem in the nation and specifically in the college population. The National College Health Assessment (NCHA) biennial survey reported the following statistics.

2012 OSU ACHA-NCHA Data – Prescription Drug Abuse

Percent of college students who reported using prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them within the last 12 months:

Type of Drug OSU 2012 % National 2012 %
Antidepressants 2.9 3.0
Erectile dysfunction drugs 0.5 0.9
Pain killers 12.3 7.7
Sedatives 3.6 3.8
Stimulants 12.6 8.1
Used 1 or more of the above 19.8 14.8

Prescription Drug Abuse Background

On some college campuses abuse of prescription stimulants is as high as 25 percent.1

These drugs are commonly abused because of how easily they are accessed. They can be obtained through friends and family, direct prescriptions from a physician, a prescription “drug dealer.” However, the most common source of these drugs is the medicine cabinets of the individual’s friends and family.2

Reasons for abusing prescription drugs include:1

  • Academic pressures
  • Maintaining focus with late-night study sessions
  • Dieting purposes
  • Feeling of euphoria
  • Coping with stress
  • Parties and social scenes

Risks and Harmful Effects

Mental Health3

  • Increased irritability, agitation and anger
  • Apathy and depression
  • Paranoia, delusions and hallucinations
  • Lowered threshold for violence
  • Psychological dependence

Physical Health3

  • Drastic changes in sleep patterns
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Stunted growth

Up to 40 percent of college students misusing prescription drugs use intranasal delivery (snorting). Many might not realize that changing the delivery method of a prescription drug can increase your risk of negative effects.4

NEVER MIX ALCOHOL WITH PRESCRIPTION DRUGS! This is especially true of opiates like OxyContin or Vicodin, because “this enhances the sedative effect of both substances, increasing the risk of death from overdose.”5


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1. McCabe, S.E., Knight, J.R., Teter, C.J., & Wechsler, H. (2005). Nonmedical use of prescription stimulants among US college students: Prevalence and correlates from a national survey. Addiction, 99, 96-106.

2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2007). Results from the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National findings (Office of Applied Studies, DHHS Publication No. SMA 03– 3836, NHSDA Series H–22). Rockville, MD.

3. Rabiner, D.L., Anastopoulos, A.D., Costello, E.J., Hoyle, R.H., McCabe, S.E., & Swartzwelder, H.S. (2008). Motives and perceived consequences of nonmedical ADHD medication use by college students. Journal of Attention Disorders, 11, 689-699.

4. White, P.W., Becker-Blease, K.A., & Grace-Bishop, K. (2006). Stimulant medication use, misuse, and abuse in an undergraduate and graduate student sample. Journal of American College Health, 54, 261-268.

5. K. Michelle Peavy (MA), Patricia Maarhuis (EdM), Washington State University. Pop Culture: an innovative approach targeting prescription drug misuse in college students, January 2009.