Addressing Prescription Stimulant Medication Misuse, Abuse and Diversion with Peer Education

by Ann Quinn-Zobeck

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Despite the increased awareness of prescription drug abuse nationwide, the misuse, abuse and diversion of ADHD prescription stimulant medication remains a serious issue, especially among college students. Though recent research has revealed varying rates of misuse, a 2013 study at one large public university found that nearly 10 percent of college students reported nonmedical use of prescription stimulant medication in the past year. Meanwhile, questions remain about whether students recognize the risks, including the legal, medical and academic consequences, of misusing or diverting ADHD prescription stimulant medication.

In an effort to address the issue, organizations representing the medical community, pharmaceutical community, mental health advocacy groups, college administrators and student leaders formed the Coalition to Prevent ADHD Medication Misuse (CPAMM). The Coalition works to help prevent the misuse, abuse and diversion of ADHD prescription stimulant medication, specifically among college students, and strives to be a trusted source of information on the issue by raising awareness and taking action through the development of programs, tools and tactics to prevent misuse, abuse and diversion. Partner organizations include: American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), BACCHUS Initiatives of NASPA, Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), The JED Foundation, NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, and Shire.

The BACCHUS Initiatives of NASPA plans to engage collegiate peer educators to assist campus efforts to help prevent the misuse, abuse and diversion of ADHD prescription stimulant medication. Peer education is essentially a program where trained students interact with their peers in meaningful ways to disseminate information and make referrals to on-campus services. Peer educators spread important health and safety information. Peer education has become a preferred method for communicating with students and is an important part of an overall prevention strategy. Trained peer can be instrumental in addressing stimulant medication misuse and abuse on college campuses.

What Peer Educators Can Do to Address Stimulant Medication Misuse and Abuse
The results of a Harris Poll survey conducted on behalf of CPAMM found that college students are busy and feel stressed, and ADHD prescription stimulant misuse is seen by many as a way to keep up with their academic demands and non-academic activities. Many college students feel pressured to succeed – at any cost. Sixty-four percent of survey respondents said they would do anything to get an A.

Students overestimate the misuse and abuse of prescription stimulants. While the majority of college students are not abusing these medications, many students believe misuse is somewhat common and that ADHD prescription stimulants are easy to obtain without a prescription and no more harmful than a cup of coffee or energy drink.

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With proper training, peer educators can provide factual information about ADHD medication and reduce the misperception of wide spread abuse. Through presentations, peer theater, social media messaging, and skill building trainings, peer educators can reach out to their fellow students to

  • teach healthy study and stress reduction skills
  • present facts about the actual rate of misuse to combat social norming of the issue (e.g., everyone is not doing it)
  • educate on perceived short-term benefits (e.g., achieving academic success) vs. potential long-term effects
  • dispel the myth of the “smart drug” as there is no evidence that students who misuse stimulant medication do better academically
  • address misinformation or lack of awareness about the misuse and diversion of ADHD medication (e.g., it’s a Schedule II controlled substance, illegal to divert or misuse, how it helps the ADHD student).

As part of CPAMM, NASPA and its BACCHUS Initiatives are partnering with the University of Washington to research what messages about prescription stimulant medication misuse and abuse resonate with college students. The results of this research will be used to develop peer-to-peer interventions for use by college students to help prevent the non-medical use of ADHD stimulant medication.

If you would like to know more about CPAMM, visit To find out how to start a peer education group and for other peer education resources, visit

Ann Quinn-ZobeckAnn Quinn-Zobeck is the Senior Director of BACCHUS Initiatives and Training at NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.