Researchers at the University of New Mexico Health Promotion and Disease Prevention center are beginning to examine an emerging boom in prescription-drug abuse among young adults and teenagers: those who misuse narcotic pain relievers such as OxyContin or Vicodin, or stimulants like Ritalin, not necessarily to get high, but to ease stress or to try to improve academic their performance.

Gilbert Quintero, associate director for the UNM Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Center and a group of Health Sciences Center researchers recently interviewed 52 college students who said they had misused prescription drugs during the previous year.

They found many of the students medicated themselves to relieve stress. The students identified 58 different brand names of drugs they had misused. Vicodin was the most popular, with 65.4% saying they had used it without a prescription, followed by Percocet, the tranquilizers Valium and Xanax, and OxyContin.

Quintero was among researchers to present findings at a recent Society for Prevention Research meeting, about this growing phenomenon of high achieving university students who abuse prescription drugs to reduce stress but not to necessarily get high.

Some students said they took prescription drugs socially because they enhance the effects of other drugs, including alcohol. One out of four students interviewed said they had misused Ritalin, primarily to keep up with academic demands, Quintero said.

Quintero quoted a 20-year-old woman who had misused Percocet, a painkiller. "It just relaxes me," she said.  "It's a complete relaxer but you can still function and do other things. It's not like when you're drunk and totally out of it."

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Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322