FRIDAY, Dec. 5, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Young adults who skip college are more likely to abuse prescription painkillers than their degree-bound peers, a new study finds.
"Our findings clearly show there is a need for young adult prevention and intervention programs to target nonmedical prescription drug use beyond college campuses," said first author Dr. Silvia Martins, an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.
Researchers analyzed data collected between 2008 and 2010 from nearly 37,000 participants, aged 18 to 22, in the annual U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Nonmedical use of powerful narcotic pain drugs (for example, Oxycontin) was reported by 13.2 percent of those who did not graduate from high school, 13.1 percent of those with a high school diploma, and 11.3 percent of those in college.
The link between education and painkiller abuse among young adults was much stronger among women than among men, according to the study recently published online in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.
The researchers also looked at abuse of prescription stimulants (such as Adderall) and found the opposite results: Stimulant misuse was more common among college students than among those who weren't in college.
About 70 percent of all young adults in the United States enroll in some form of college education, while 30 percent do not.
Narcotic painkillers are second only to marijuana as the most common type of illegal drug used by young adults in the United States, the researchers noted.
"This age group is particularly vulnerable to the development of adverse substance-using patterns, due in part to the process of identity formation that emerges at this developmental stage," Martins said in a university news release.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about prescription drug abuse.