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Most College Students Say It's Easy to Get Prescription Meds on Campus

The most common reason to take them: 85% of students who misused stimulants took them to help study or improve grades.
Prescription pills containing oxycodone and acetaminophen are shown in this June 20, 2012 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme RoyGraeme Roy / Canadian Press Images via AP file

Almost three quarters of college students say it’s easy to find controlled stimulants on campus, according to a new survey.

The most common reason to take them: 85% of students who misused stimulants took them to help study or improve grades. About a third of students said it was easy to obtain pain meds.

In spring 2015, Ohio State’s Center for the Study of Student Life and the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery conducted the survey over eight college campuses in five states. 3,918 students participated, answering the voluntary and anonymous survey.

Though the names of the actual schools weren’t released, four of the colleges who participated in the survey were from Ohio, and the others were from the Midwest, South and Mid-Atlantic. Results for graduate and undergraduate students were similar, though undergrads reported more prescription drug abuse.

The vast majority — 83% — said they got the prescription drugs from friends. Of those who reported getting drugs from friends, relatives, or peers, the majority reported they were given to them.

In addition to questions about acquiring and using prescription drugs, the survey looked at consequences. Twenty percent of users of pain meds reported feeling depressed, and between 7 and 19% of all users said they had done things they wished they hadn’t while on prescription drugs.

"One of the biggest issues on our campuses from my perspective is the misuse of prescription stimulants (drugs like Adderall and Ritalin) as so called 'study aids,’" said Kenneth Hale, clinical professor of pharmacy at Ohio State and associate director of HECAOD Hale. "These drugs are sometimes legitimately prescribed for patients with ADHD, and they can be a very important component of their treatment regimen.

"However, students who misuse these drugs by using someone else's medications expose themselves to significant risk.”

Research at Ohio State and elsewhere, said Hale, has shown that using prescription stimulants to help study actually has the reverse effect — and results typically in lower grade-point averages.

“At one time, college students most commonly misused drugs to get high,” Hale said. “But today, students also use medications to self-medicate, to manage their lives. They are using drugs to control pain, to go to sleep, to relieve anxiety and to study.”