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Prevention efforts focused on youth reduce prescription abuse into adulthood

NIH-funded research shows effectiveness of community-based, substance abuse prevention interventions begun during middle school years

February 14, 2013

Middle school students from small towns and rural communities who received any of three community-based prevention programs were less likely to abuse prescription medications in late adolescence and young adulthood. The research, published today in the American Journal of Public Health, was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the National Institute of Mental Health, all components of the National Institutes of Health.

“Prescription medications are beneficial when used as prescribed to treat pain, anxiety, or ADHD,” said NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. “However, their abuse can have serious consequences, including addiction or even death from overdose. We are especially concerned about prescription drug abuse among teens, who are developmentally at an increased risk for addiction.”

Past year use by 12th graders, Marijuana 36.4%, Synthetic MJ 11.3, Adderall 7.6, Vicodin 7.5, Cough med 5.6, Tranqs 5.3%, Hallucinogens 4.8, Sedatives 4.5, Salvia 4.4, Oxy 4.3, MDMA 3.8, Inhalants 2.9, Cocaine 2.7 and Ritalin 2.6

Prescription drug abuse -- taking a medication without a prescription or in a way (higher dose, snorted) or for reasons other than prescribed (to get high) -- has become one of the most serious public health concerns in the United States. According to the 2012 Monitoring the Future survey of U.S. teen substance use, prescription and over-the-counter medications were among the top substances abused by 12th graders in the past year. In 2011, about 1.7 million people 12-25 years old, or more than 4,500 young people per day, abused a prescription drug for the first time, according to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The article, by scientists at Iowa State University, Ames, and Penn State, University Park, presents the combined research results of three randomized controlled trials of preventive interventions – termed “universal” because they target all youth regardless of risk for future substance abuse. All three studies involved rural or small-town students in grades six or seven, who were randomly assigned to a control condition (receiving no prevention intervention) or to a family-focused intervention alone or in combination with a school-based intervention:

  • Study 1, begun in 1993, tested a family-focused intervention alone (22 schools).
  • Study 2, begun in 1998, tested a combined family-focused intervention and a school-based life skills training program (24 schools).
  • Study 3, begun in 2002, tested a delivery system for a family-focused intervention and one of three school-based interventions selected from a menu (28 schools).

All of these interventions addressed general risk and protective factors for substance abuse rather than specifically targeting prescription drug abuse. In follow-up questionnaires and telephone interviews completed at 17-25 years of age, students across the three studies showed reductions in risk -- ranging from about 20 percent to as much as 65 percent -- for prescription drug and opioid abuse, compared to students in the control groups. Importantly, the interventions used had previously been shown to reduce the likelihood of other substance use or other problem behaviors.

“We could find no other randomized, controlled studies where brief community-based preventive interventions conducted during middle school were associated with long-term reductions in prescription drug abuse -- six to 14 years after initial program implementation,” said Dr. Richard Spoth, from the Partnerships in Prevention Science Institute at Iowa State University and first author on the study. “The intervention effects were comparable or even stronger for participants who had started misusing substances prior to the middle school interventions, suggesting that these programs also can be successful in higher-risk groups.”

The study can be found at: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2012.301209. For information on prescription drug abuse, go to: http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-over-counter-medications.

The study was funded under grant numbers DA013709, DA10815, DA007029, AA14702 and MH49217.


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NIDA Press Office
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media@nida.nih.gov

About the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): NIDA is a component of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIDA supports most of the world's research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction. The Institute carries out a large variety of programs to inform policy and improve practice. Fact sheets on the health effects of drugs of abuse and information on NIDA research and other activities can be found on the NIDA home page at www.drugabuse.gov. To order publications in English or Spanish, call NIDA's new DrugPubs research dissemination center at 1-877-NIDA-NIH or 240-645-0228 (TDD) or fax or email requests to 240-645-0227 or drugpubs@nida.nih.gov. Online ordering is available at drugpubs.drugabuse.gov. NIDA's media guide can be found at www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide, and its new easy-to-read website can be found at www.easyread.drugabuse.gov.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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This page was last updated February 2013

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