College students abuse illegally obtained prescription drugs to improve their academic standing. A study by West Virginia University finds that prescription stimulants, pain relievers, and sedatives are being abused among college students to achieve different effects.
Stimulants, commonly known as amphetamines, are often prescribed to patients with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Pain relievers are narcotic analgesics that are prescribed to patients to aid in managing moderate to severe pain levels. Finally, sedatives are central nervous system (CNS) depressants that are prescribed to patients to treat anxiety, sleeping, and panic disorders.
These three types of prescription medications are all labeled as Schedule II drugs. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Schedule II classification of drugs, substances, or chemicals is defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse. They could also potentially lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.
Prescription stimulants that are most common are Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, Focalin, and Dexedrine. Prescription pain relievers that are most common are Vicodin, Oxycontin, Percocet, Kadian, Avinza, and Codeine. Prescription sedatives that are most common are Valium, Xanax, Halcion, ProSom, Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata, Mebaral, and Luminal Sodium.
These common drugs are prescribed to patients all over the country. But the illegal use of prescription medication by young adults is having detrimental effects that users may not be aware of.
How Often and Why?
The University of Ohio Office of Student Life conducted a “College Prescription Drug Study” (CPDS) in 2018. The report includes key findings for undergraduates, graduates, and professional students. This study is examining the cause and effect of abuse of prescription drugs among college students. This report shows data of students who reported misusing prescription drugs and cannot speak for those who did not willingly take part.
According to this study, there are common and predictable times when a student would abuse prescription medication.
Seventy-nine percent of those who reported prescription medication abuse ranked finals and exams as the No. 1 reason for use. These are the “all-nighters” who study with the aid of the insomniac stimulants and pain relievers.
Fifty-three percent of admitted users said they used prescription medication before a test or project to get last-minute facts committed to memory.
Thirty-eight percent of students reported medication use when feeling behind in schoolwork or studies.
In the same study, it was found that stimulants were the most abused prescription drug out of the three classifications.
The respondents informed researchers that pain medication was primarily used to get high and experience pain relief. Prescription sedatives were self-administered almost exclusively for better sleep and relieving anxiety. Finally, prescription stimulants were the most used as a study aid to get better grades and to utilize tunnel-vision focus.
College students abuse prescription drugs for better grades, better sleep, pain management and self-treatment of anxiety. These are issues that are best communicated with medical professionals for the proper administration of prescription drugs. Consulting medical practitioners will better connect patients with medication and dosage.
The Dangers of Abusing Prescription Drugs
Addiction to prescription medication is a danger for those who abuse prescription drugs. This is even more likely if the medication being taken is by a non-patient who is unaware of the proper dosage.
Drs. Gretchen Watson, Andrea Arcona and David Antouccio study ADHD drug use, conducting studies and reports on the effects and misuse of prescription ADHD medication. These doctors have reported common side effects from ADHD medication such as nervousness, anxiety, sleep disturbances, growth suppression, appetite suppression, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, dizziness and headaches, disturbances in heart rate and blood pressure, skin rashes and toxic psychosis.
The University of Ohio study found that in a group of participants who admitted to abusing prescription medication, all three categories left participants suffering from depression. Pain medication and sedative misusers also reported memory loss, emotional problems, and regret among their symptoms.
Education About the Dangers
Dr. Ramin Mojtabai, a professor of mental health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health explains the dangers many students may not understand.
“In college, especially, these drugs are used as a study-aid medication to help students stay up all night and cram. Our sense is that a sizeable proportion of those who use them believe these medications make them smarter and more capable of studying. We need to educate this group that there could be serious adverse effects from taking these drugs and we don’t know much at all about their long-term health effects.”
Watson and her colleagues provided a strong statement that best sums up what prescription drug abusers need to know,
“Although students are correct in noting that the drugs help them stay awake and, therefore, increase their ability to cram and pull ‘all-nighters,’ there is no evidence that doing so actually improves learning or retention of information.”
Learning about this type of drug misuse is vital to patients and non-patients alike to seek proper treatment by medical professionals. There is no evidence that these drugs will help people learn or become smarter, like so many prescription medication misusers believe. Self-medicating is dangerous and can be fatal for those who have heart conditions.
Drug treatment centers and facilities are available for those who feel they have a substance abuse problem. Identifying the misuse of prescription drugs may be difficult for those who do not see this as a problem. College students may identify their problem as an inability to focus on and abuse prescription drugs as the answer. That makes a real problem like addiction more difficult to address.
Identifying prescription drug abuse as a problem when an individual is taking prescription medication that is not prescribed to the user; when an individual would prefer to obtain these drugs from someone other than a licensed medical professional; or when an individual is consuming more medication than advised by a medical professional.
“Study drug” use and abuse can be dangerous and potentially fatal. College students are struggling with prescription medication abuse without knowing all the harmful effects overdosing may cause.
ADHD prescription medication is the most common “study drug” that is abused. It is imperative to align patients with doctors to obtain a correct diagnosis and be matched with the best approach to treatment.
Illegally obtained prescription medication may be laced with unknown substances that can be extremely harmful or fatal. It is imperative that treatment and medication be obtained in a safe and legal environment to ensure accidental overdosing does not happen. Cases of medication laced with other harmful and fatal substances like fentanyl have occurred in the United States. It is unknown how far some of these pills may have traveled. It is safest to speak with medical professionals rather than self-medicate.
Drug Enforcement Administration Response to COVID-19
On January 31, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar declared COVID-19 a public health emergency.
The DEA has issued a statement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The department insists that controlled substance manufacturers, distributors, importers, and the department itself are unaware of any drug shortages at this time.
Due to social distancing laws put in place to help stop the spread of the virus, telemedicine has been a leading tool in combating conditions not tied to the coronavirus. The DEA has issued leniency in regards to drug administration procedures done by DEA-registered medical practitioners,
“Following this announcement, DEA worked in consultation with HHS to allow DEA-registered practitioners to begin issuing prescriptions for controlled substances to patients for whom they have not conducted an in-person medical evaluation.”
Telemedicine will allow students to not resort to obtaining prescription medication from unlicensed distributors. Virtual doctor visits and communication with behavioral health specialists can remove the need to self-medicate and self-harm by receiving education on medicines and dosage. Dropping the need for an in-person consultation can make talking to a doctor more approachable and therefore more likely for users to seek treatment.
The DEA goes on to list the three requirements in order to use telemedicine for administering prescription drugs without an in-person consultation.
First, in the usual course of his/her professional practice, a practitioner may write a prescription for a legitimate medical purpose.
Second, the telemedicinal platform used must be an audio-visual, real-time and two-way interactive communication system.
Third, the federal and state law must be adhered to by the practitioner where applicable.
These leniencies to combat the spread of the global virus act as a steppingstone to promote health and well-being. Students who are suffering from stress, insomnia, and educational pressure now have a practical way to address their needs. College students who are seeking recovery from abuse of ADHD medication and other prescription drugs will receive help from telemedicine.
Between an opioid epidemic and a global pandemic, it can be incredibly stressful to cope or manage. A dedicated support system can be an incredibly useful tool in recovery and seeking treatment. Social distancing laws prohibit large groups to meet, but social networking is an efficient way to stay connected to people who can provide support to those in need of a healthy life.
Facebook groups, local outreach programs and mental health groups are strong options to connect. These are especially important to those who wish to not discuss their information with family and prefer a sense of privacy.
Recovery services and resources are available on a telemedicinal platform. Throughout the lifespan of the virus, businesses and medical facilities are joining the technological movement. This movement will reach more patients than in the past, as well as provide treatment that can save more lives than before.
Education and training are key to reforming substance use disorder. Prescription drug overdose, prescription medication addiction, and substance abuse can be approached with compassion, care, and understanding. Counseling and therapies are strong options to target the reason for substance use to better prevent relapse after treatment. Counselors, therapists, and specialists are also made available for virtual sessions. These adaptations are making every need of recovery accessible through technology, which will abide by COVID-19 regulations, as well as become an approachable avenue for health and wellness to all who seek it.
By Annalise Baare