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Prescription Opioid Misuse Among University Students

While it has been established that prescription opioid misuse is a crisis in the United States, there is little information on the population of misusers within the university setting.

A recent study at a large public Midwestern university sought out to characterize opioid users in the college population by including 3,659 participants in an online survey. This survey collected demographic information and opioid use history. The questions also assessed students’ impulsivity, alcohol use, depression, anxiety, and ADHD symptoms.

The results of this study showed that 2.2% of the participants were currently misusing prescription opioids, and 5.3% had in the past. Students who were enrolled part-time, had a reported GPA under 3.0, or lived off campus were more likely to misuse prescription opioids. Students who had misused prescription opioids were also more likely to use or have previously used heroin and other opioids. They also had higher likelihood of alcohol use, gambling, and risky sexual behavior.

Mental health played a role in the results as well. Current opioid misusers were the most likely to report higher levels of bipolar disorder, PTSD, depressive symptoms, anxiety, and ADHD. Previous misusers were somewhat more likely to report these mental health conditions, and non-misusers were least likely.

Overall, these results suggest many links between prescription opioid misuse and impulsive behaviors within college students, as well as mental health. This suggests that there may be an intrinsic difference between college aged prescription opioid misusers, past misusers, and those who have never misused an opioid. These findings show the need for future research to find connections between the onset of impulsive behaviors and opioid misuse for adolescents and young adults, as well as to raise awareness for mental health issues and risks among opioid misusers on college campuses.

Take Away: College students who have misused prescription opioid drugs are more likely to exhibit impulsive behaviors and be affected by mental health disorders.

Harries, M.D., Lust, K., Christenson, G.A., et al. (2018). Prescription Opioid Medication Misuse Among University Students. The American Journal on Addictions. (1-7). doi.org/10.1111/ajad.1280

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