Student-Athlete Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse

by Laura K. Farleman

Disclaimer: What is included in this blog is the opinion of the individual writing the blog and does not explicitly represent the thoughts or opinions of the NCAA.

Student-athletes face excessive pressure related to academic and athletic life. These pressures are key factors that influence prescription misuse within the student-athlete experience. Stressors faced more often and to a greater degree than their peers include: time demands, sleep deprivation, relationships with coaches and scheduling missed class/exams. Other pressures stem from self-imposed and coaching expectations regarding academic and athletic performance. According to Mind, Body and Sport, an NCAA publication seeking to provide insight and support for student-athlete mental wellness, student-athletes appear to be less likely to seek help or receive mental health services when dealing with these stressors.[1]

Additionally, a higher percentage of student-athletes are prescribed narcotics for pain management than the general student body.[2] Research indicates increasing trends of ADHD and pain medication use both with and without a prescription with almost 25% of NCAA student-athletes reporting prescription pain mediation use.[3],[4] Further, student-athletes who reported taking ADHD medication(s) indicated that they were more likely to use without a prescription.

Add in the mental health factors associated with injury and recovery, and the potential for misuse is plain. The tough question is: how do we address it? My solution involves three simple steps.

1. Change the Environment.

We need to change the attitudes we have towards prescription misuse/abuse. A mindset focused on harnessing internal motivations provides a foundation for positive change. Changing the attitude associated with prescription abuse begins to break the “no talk, don’t talk” bubble. The impact of prescription drug abuse goes beyond the individual. Its ripple effects can be traced to the team, campus life, and the community. It is everyone’s problem.

2. Address the Misconception

Student-athletes need more than just “don’t do it”. Historically we see how a “just say no” philosophy fails to address abusive behavior. Education regarding what prescription misuse and abuse entails and the health impacts misusing or abusing prescription medications can have, is critical. Student-athletes are held legally responsible for what they ingest.

3. Develop a Proactive Plan

Institutions and athletic departments should focus on designing a proactive plan to address key factors influencing student-athlete prescription misuse, including student-athlete access to academic and mental health services. Conversations with institutional Student-Athlete Advisory Committee’s (SAAC’s) will be essential to engaging the student-athlete voice when developing a proactive plan to address prescription drug abuse.

A screenshot from the pilot student athlete Generation Rx toolkit, courtesy of Laura Farleman.

A screenshot from the pilot student athlete Generation Rx toolkit, courtesy of Laura Farleman.

A student-athlete Generation Rx toolkit is currently in development. Together with the help of the NCAA, Cedarville University School of Pharmacy and The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy, the pilot Student-Athlete Generation Rx toolkit will launch in 2016. This toolkit will ultimately provide resources to start addressing prescription drug abuse from within the athletic experience.




  1. Davoren AK, Hwang S. Depression and anxiety prevalence in student-athletes. In: Hainline B, Kroshus E, Wilfert M, eds. Mind, body, and sport understanding and supporting student-athlete mental wellness. 1st ed. NCAA; 2014:38 -39.
  2. Hainline B, Bell L, Wilfert M. Substance use and abuse. In: Hainline B, Kroshus E, Wilfert M, eds. Mind, body, and sport understanding and supporting student-athlete mental wellness. 1st ed. NCAA; 2014:40-45.
  3. NCCA national study of substance use habits of college student-athletes. National Collegiate Athletic Association. Published 2013. Updated 2014. Accessed December 20, 2015.
  4. NCCA student-athlete substance use study: executive summary august 2014. National Collegiate Athletic Association. Published 2014. Accessed December 20, 2015.

LKF HeadshotLaura Farleman is in her second professional year at Cedarville University School of Pharmacy, and in her last year as a Division II student-athlete.. She serves as the Great-Midwest Athletic Conference National Student-Athlete Advisory Committee Representative and the Division II student-athlete representative to the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports, contributing student-athlete insight about health and safety in collegiate athletics. Long term, Laura is pursuing a career in neurology in hopes of improving the longevity and quality of life of individuals with neurological conditions.


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