Lane Wallace: History and regulation have shaped evolution of non-medical drug use

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

I am very favorably impressed by the work that the Generation Rx groups are doing. Through my study of the neurobiology of addiction, I am convinced that education and life skills are crucial activities for optimizing use of medications to enhance wellness and to minimize addiction.

In this opinion piece, I will share some thoughts relative to the history of regulation of non-medical drug use.

By many measures, the most restrictive regulation in the United States was the 18th amendment to the US Constitution, enacted in January 1919. Manufacture, sale, and distribution of alcohol were prohibited. While the law initially decreased use of alcohol somewhat, the overall effect of Prohibition was a black market for manufacture and distribution of alcohol and a substantial expenditure of dollars and manpower to attempt to enforce the law. This law was repealed in 1933 by the 21st amendment to the constitution. An important lesson from this social experiment is that enterprising individuals will find a way (legal or illegal) to make money by meeting demand for a product.

The current law regulating non-medical use of drugs sets up regulatory schedules for drugs with abuse potential. Drugs that do not have a Food and Drug Administration-approved therapeutic use and that have high addiction potential are assigned to Schedule I. It is illegal to possess these drugs without special permission from the Drug Enforcement Administration. A strategy to skirt the law is to make designer drugs. These are pharmacologically active analogs that are chemically similar but not identical to the illegal drug. The “bath salt” drugs are designer drugs that are chemically similar, but not identical, to amphetamine and ecstasy. The major known “bath salt” drugs were assigned as Schedule I drugs in 2011. The number of seizures/arrests associated with these drugs has been declining since that time. However, this is offset by an increase in seizures of new designer drugs. The pharmacology of these drugs is currently under study. Results to date suggest a high probability that these drugs have similar addiction potential to those they are replacing. These events reinforce the concept that enterprising individuals will find a way (legal or illegal) to make money by meeting demand for a product. Thus, lessons from history inform us that regulations have their place but do not eliminate demand for drugs.

The question then arises as to what activities might decrease demand for non-medical use of drugs. This is a difficult question. Despite increased regulation over the last 44 years, the percent of the US population identified as having an addiction to an illicit drug has remained constant. What has changed is the particular drug(s) in highest demand. For example, 35 years ago, methaqualude (Sopors) was the most commonly used illicit drug on campuses. Few students in my recent classes have ever heard of this drug. This suggests that desire to use drugs for non-medical purposes has more to do with human behavior than the “captivating” power of a particular drug or class of drugs. This brings us back to the activities of Generation Rx groups. High quality, accurate information presented in ways that capture the attention of recipients has the potential to decrease demand for non-medical use of drugs. Furthermore, these same activities have the potential to help people be smarter in their medical use of drugs.

wallace_lane_web_150Lane Wallace is a professor and chair of pharmacology at The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy. He specializes in neuropharmacology and mechanism of action of addicting drugs.

Nicole Whalen: The Rx Factor Unites Students to Raise Awareness

The Rx Factor was started in 2011 by a group of students at The University of Tampa (UT) in order to address the growing concern of prescription drug abuse among college aged students. Spurred by personal experiences and a passion for educating their peers, this organization was started by students for students.

The goals of the organization are quite simple: The Rx Factor seeks to educate the UT student body on the multidimensional consequences of prescription drug misuse. Through community collaboration and peer-to-peer interactions, we aim to empower students at UT to change the course of this epidemic. By raising awareness, in addition to altering attitudes and behaviors, we hope to reduce the negative consequences that students may experience if currently engaging in prescription drug misuse.  What makes the organization so special is the fact that it is students helping to educate other students at the same level. There is no superiority or judgment; rather, there is an open dialogue about a real issue affecting our generation.

Over the semesters since the Rx Factor’s beginning, we had the opportunity to run quite a few successful campaigns and wellness initiatives on campus. We were able to reach students through social media and events on campus and by creating initiatives that were culturally relevant to the college student demographic. For example, one of our initiatives involved taking hip hop lyrics that glorified the usage of Molly and flipping them around so they then introduced students to the side effects of taking that drug. Some of our initiatives were more successful than others, but all were able to provide invaluable information to students.

I think the most extensive project we undertook, and the one we are probably most proud of to this day, is the documentary we made over the course of the 2012-2013 academic year. The idea of creating a documentary was one that we had pondered for quite some time, but we were unsure if we had the resources and time to pull it off. After a year of hard work and immense support from peers, faculty, and community members, we were able to make it happen, ultimately debuting it in April of 2013. The documentary was filmed, produced, and edited by two film majors; the interviews were conducted by the Rx Factor founder; and I was able to draw an animation we used in the film. All of the interviews came from faculty members at UT, community members, such as our county commissioner, Kevin Beckner, and a student in recovery. The soundtrack was even done by a local band called Dropin’ Pickup’, which is composed of a few University of South Florida students. [This documentary can be viewed below.]

One key element of our organization is the diversity of our members. Our successes came not from being the same, yet rather from being different. Some members were public health students, but we also had students majoring in marketing, photography, psychology, film, and art. These differences broadened our scope and outreach, allowing us to get in touch with our peers in a wide variety of ways. It also helped to open ourselves up to new ideas, discussions, and brainstorming that otherwise may have never happened or may have fallen flat had we all come to the table with the same backgrounds, interests, and passions.

As an alumni of UT, I am proud of all the work Rx Factor members and supporters have done to raise awareness about the prescription drug misuse epidemic affecting our generation. I am confident that current and future students will carry on this work and continue to make a change in their community and their nation.

Below is the documentary, which can be viewed in its entirety.