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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Columbia: Polysubstance Use Among U.S. Young Adults

In a Lancet Psychiatry commentary, Drs. Morgan Philbin and Pia Mauro, assistant professors in sociomedical sciences and epidemiology, respectively, at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, offered their insights on the patterns and drivers of U.S. young adults’ non-medical use of prescription drugs and their association with substance use disorder symptoms at age 35.

Young adults aged 18–25 years, report the highest prevalence of non-medical use of prescription drugs in the past year (15 percent), binge drinking (37 percent), or illicit drug use (24 percent) in the past month.

“Based on the high rates of polysubstance use we are seeing there is an urgency to educate young adults about potential consequences associated with the non-medical use of prescription drugs. It’s also important to discuss the sharing of medications with peers,” wrote Dr. Philbin.

“There were differences in peak ages for use of opioids (29–30 years), sedatives (35 years), and stimulants (27–28 years). This means that the aggregated peak of 27–28 years for any non-medical use of prescription drugs is not the absolute peak for all prescription drugs,” noted Dr. Mauro. Therefore, Drs. Philbin and Mauro highlight the need to incorporate polysubstance use screening and care linkage across the life course.

Interventions play an important role but language and terminology also matter. “The ways that we, as researchers, describe substance use can directly influence perceptions about people who use drugs. Using the term ‘non-medical substance use’ instead of ‘misuse’ can make a difference.”

“At an individual level, providers should screen patients and discuss treatment options. At a structural level, programs should expand access to medication, disposal, and harm reduction, and ensure affordable and non-stigmatizing treatment,” they explained.

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