Opioid Abuse Higher Among College Avoiders

December 4, 2014
Rachel Lutz

Skipping college seems to contribute to prescription painkiller abuse.

Skipping college seems to contribute to prescription painkiller abuse, according to research published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

Researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health looked at nonmedical prescription opioid and stimulant use among 36,781 young adults aged 18 to 22 years who were high school graduates, non-graduates, or current college students. The authors defined nonmedical use of prescription opioids as any self-reported use of a prescription pain reliever that was not prescribed and taken only to experience the feeling it provides.

In the study, the following groups reported some extent of nonmedical prescription opioid use:

- Non-college-attending young adults with at least a high school degree (13.1%)

- young adults who did not graduate from high school (13.2%)

- college attending young adults (11.3%)

The investigators reported a significant trend among young women and prescription drug use disorders, as those who completed high school but were not receiving any form of college education had a significantly greater risk for opioid misuse than their college-attending counterparts. By comparison, the difference between young men with at least a high school education and their college-attending counterparts was negligible in the study.

“Our findings clearly show there is a need for young adult prevention and intervention programs to target nonmedical prescription drug use beyond college campuses,” said first study author Silvia S. Martins, MD, PhD, in a press release. “This age group is particularly vulnerable to the development of adverse substance using patterns, due in part to the process of identity formation that emerges at this developmental stage.”

Prescription stimulant use demonstrated an opposite trend from opioids, as young adults without a high school degree and those who received a high school diploma or GED were less likely to have used nonmedical stimulants than their college-attending peers.

Still, “more than 40% of the nonmedical prescription opioid and stimulant users identified in our data who initiated use of these drugs at 18 years of age or younger went on to develop prescription opioid and stimulant disorders,” Dr. Martins said. “Therefore, prevention messages targeting young adult users of these drugs without a prescription are crucial to prevent escalation to either of these syndromes.”