Nonmedical Use of Prescription Stimulants among Community College Students in Tennessee

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Purpose: Nonmedical use of stimulant medications (NMUS) among college students is an important and growing problem. The annual prevalence of NMUS among four-year college students has nearly doubled since 2008 and exceeds NMUS in non-college peers. Community college students are an understudied population regarding NMUS. Given noted NMUS differences in 4-year students and non-college peers, one cannot assume community college students’ cognitions, perceptions, and behaviors mirror either peer cohort. We conducted a web-based survey across 10 community colleges in Tennessee (TN) to assess correlates and consequences of NMUS.

Methods: We developed an initial version of the 60-item survey questionnaire using previously validated, theoretically based survey items and other items developed by the research team. The survey instrument was then reviewed and assessed for content validity by our research team, and thereafter pilot tested with East Tennessee State University undergraduate students for range measures, item order, and best practices for survey construction. The final 55-item survey instrument was designed using web-based survey software (i.e., Qualtrics). Ten of 13 community colleges in TN granted approval for their students to participate in the study (N=53096). A modified Tailored Design Method approach was utilized to maximize response rate across four email contacts, and monetary incentives were offered to encourage participation in the study. Regulatory authorities (e.g., institutional review boards, institutional offices) from East Tennessee State University and participating community colleges approved the conduct of this study. Data were analyzed using SPSS (version 22). Descriptive statistics were calculated to evaluate prevalence, source, motives and consequences of NMUS. Student’s t-tests and chi-square tests were conducted to compare nonmedical stimulant users and nonusers across a number of variables. Results were considered significant for p < 0.05. Results: A total of 3113 students completed the survey (response-rate = 5.8%), of which 302 (9.7%) were past-year nonmedical stimulant users. A significantly greater proportion of users were diagnosed with a mental health condition (22.2%) than non-users (9.6%). Compared to non-users, significantly greater proportions of users reported using tobacco products, such as cigarettes (34.5% vs. 14%), e-cigarettes (12.5% vs. 4%), and vapors (18.4% vs. 6.7%). Users further reported using more types of illicit drugs (1.9 ± 0.1), more alcoholic drinks per week (2.9±0.3), and more occasions of binge drinking per month (1.8±0.2) than non-users (1.1±0.02, 1.3±0.07, 0.7±0.04, respectively).

Only 14.2% of users (n=43 from 302) reported having prescriptions for prescription stimulants. Common sources of prescription stimulants were friends (62.9%), family members (12.3%), and street suppliers (9.9%). Commonly endorsed reasons for NMUS were ‘to improve academic performance’ (63.9%), ‘to have more energy’ (49.7 %), ‘to relieve tension’ (22.2%), and ‘to feel good or get high’ (16.6 %). Adverse effects resulting from NMUS included: lack of appetite (45.4%), difficulty sleeping (38.4 %), and racing heart (31.1%). Unlike the published findings from 4-year college students, low GPA, male gender, Caucasian race and membership in fraternity organizations were not associated with NMUS in community colleges.

Conclusion: The present study provides useful information on characteristics of users and patterns and consequences of NMUS in community colleges students. NMUS appears to be associated with illicit substance use, binge drinking and disrupted mental health in community college students in TN. Friends are the most common source and desire to enhance academic performance is the most salient motive for NMUS. Despite facing adverse consequences, college students continued using stimulants nonmedically. These findings underscore the need for development of public health programs that target prevention of NMUS in community colleges.


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