In America, small but substantial minorities of younger and older adults abuse some sort of prescription medication. Researchers know quite a bit about the people most likely fall into this pattern of drug abuse, but they generally know much less about the people most likely to sell the prescription medications abused by others. In a study scheduled for publication in 2014 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from several U.S. institutions examined the factors that make any given young adult more likely to illegally/illicitly sell prescription drugs.
Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics
According to current figures compiled by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, prescription medication is much less common in the U.S. than the illicit or illegal use of marijuana, the country’s third most popular recreational substance. Still, millions of people abuse a prescription substance. The most common target of this form of substance abuse is an opioid painkilling medication such as hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab) or oxycodone (OxyContin, Percodan). In descending order, the other three most likely targets of prescription drug abuse are sedative-hypnotic medications classified as tranquilizers, stimulant medications such as those used for the treatment of ADHD, and sedative-hypnotic medications classified as sedatives. Prescription opioid abuse occurs at a much higher rate than the abuse of these other types of medications, except among college students (who have a stronger tendency to abuse prescription stimulants). Generally speaking, college students and other young adults abuse prescription medications substantially more often than the rest of the population.
Sources of Abused Medications
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also tracks some of the sources used to acquire abused prescription medications. Most of the agency’s efforts here focus on the sources of opioid painkillers. More than half of all providers of these medications give them to relatives or friends without asking for any money in return. In turn, the ultimate source of the freely supplied medications is usually a single prescribing doctor. Only roughly 1.4 percent of all people who supply prescription opioids to a friend or relative originally purchase those medications from a drug dealer or some other unknown third party. Another approximately 5 percent originally purchase an opioid medication from yet another friend or relative.
The direct purchase of a prescription opioid by the abuser of that opioid is fairly uncommon. In roughly 15 percent of all cases, opioid medication abusers buy substances from a friend or relative rather than getting them for free. In addition, approximately 4 percent of all prescription opioid abusers buy their medications from a drug dealer or some other unknown third party.
Which Young Adults Act As Sellers?
In the study scheduled for publication in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from Purdue University, the City University of New York and two other institutions used information gathered from 404 young adults living in New York City to help determine which young adults have the highest likelihood of getting involved in the sale of prescription medications. All of these individuals were party to some form of illicit/illegal prescription drug intake. The researchers asked all of the study enrollees to describe their own recent involvement in the sale of prescription medications, in addition to asking them which types of people had recently probed their willingness to become prescription drug sellers.
After analyzing the provided information, the researchers concluded that two groups of young adults have the highest chances of illicitly/illegally selling prescription medications: people with very wealthy parents and people with a heterosexual sexual orientation. Several additional factors increase the odds of becoming a seller, including being fairly heavily involved in stimulant or sedative-hypnotic medication abuse, having access to stimulant medications through a legitimate prescription, being a frequenter of college bars and having a prior history of selling drugs rather than medications. Factors that increase the likelihood of at least receiving an offer to sell prescription medications include having a history of stimulant intake, having access to sedative-hypnotic medications through a legitimate prescription and being male.
The study’s authors note that college bars may be particularly crucial to the formation of personal networks that foster participation in the sale of prescription medications, in addition to acting as likely sites of recruitment offers from others. They also note that young men and young women are equally like to illegally/illicitly sell a prescription drug, despite the tendency of young men to receive more recruitment offers.