Education and Prescription Misuse in Young Adults

We are in the middle of an opioid overdose epidemic in the United States. Prescription drug misuse (PDM) contributes to this crisis. PDM is the use of prescription opioids, stimulants, sedatives, or tranquilizers that are not prescribed and are taken only for the recreational experience or feelings that they induce. When famous influencers, actors, and musicians engage in (PDM), it only encourages others to do the same—especially college students. Young adults ages 18 to 25 are the demographic where PDM is most prevalent.

A study, “Sources of Prescription Medication Misuse Among Young Adults in the United States: The Role of Educational Status”—conducted by Dr. Ty Schepis, professor of psychology, and his coauthors—helps to explain how educational status might influence which people are more susceptible to different drugs.

Published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, the study found that prescription opioid and sedative or tranquilizer misuse were the most prevalent among young adults not attending college, especially among high school dropouts. In contrast, full-time college students and college graduates had the highest rates of prescription stimulant misuse.

The study also found that the most common source where young adults obtained prescriptions to misuse was from close friends and relatives for free. Furthermore, prescription drug misusers who got their medication from theft or fake prescriptions, purchases, or multiple sources were most likely to report Substance Use Disorder (SUD)s in the past year, and they were likely to have the most severe overall risk of concurrent substance use and SUD.

As the opioid epidemic continues, it is important to understand how it affects different demographics. Students are affected, too. If you know of anyone who misuses prescriptions, take the proper steps and support them to seek help before it’s too late.

If you know anyone suffering with opioid use disorder, you can visit the website of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ( or call the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-4357 for more information about mental and substance use disorders, prevention, and confidential treatment referral.