Seventeen percent of high school students say they have engaged in non-medical use of prescription drugs (NMUPD), according to a recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

The study, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), included students in grades 9–12 and was the first to report on the association between NMUPD and unhealthy weight management (UWMP), one of main reasons given for NMUPD. 

Using data from the 2011 and 2013 surveys, researchers isolated the sample of students who reported a weight loss goal of either staying the same weight or losing weight. This resulted in a final sample of 7,482 male and 10,941 female students. 

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NMUPD was assessed by asking participants how many times in their life they had taken a prescription drug (such as OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, Codeine, Adderall, Ritalin, or Xanax) without a doctor’s prescription. Researchers found that all unhealthy weight management practices (fasting, vomiting, laxative use, diet pill/powder/liquid use) were significantly associated with NMUPD in female students. 

For male students there were significant associations between NMUPD and fasting, vomiting or taking laxatives. 

“One explanation for the association between UWMPs and NMUPD is that both behaviors reflect a constellation of adolescent health risks,” said Heather B. Clayton, PhD, MPH, and lead investigator of the study. “These behaviors may be attributed to stressors, which could be caused by a host of factors that affect adolescents.”

The authors recommend that health educators in school settings focus on healthy weight management strategies and other substance-specific messages. 

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