MoSafeRx logo that reads "There's no excuse for prescription drug abuse."

By: Joan Masters

Several years ago, our statewide coalition, Partners in Prevention was invited to take part in a project through our state Department of Mental Health to address prescription drug misuse of Missouri college students.  We were thrilled to take on this project.  We had been collecting data for several years on the health behaviors of Missouri college students and it was clear:  prescription drug misuse and abuse was on the rise.  What was even clearer:  students in Missouri didn’t think that prescription drug misuse and abuse was a problem.

In this day and age, it is pretty easy to convince a college student that drinking and driving is not a safe choice and most college students agree that the use of illegal drugs and the associated consequences of drug use don’t mix well with their academic goals and aspirations.  However, prescription drug abuse was a very different story.  They felt that “study drugs” as some students call prescription ADHD and ADD medications, did not interfere with their academic goals, and even more so, they saw these substances as a healthy and safe way to complete their academic work given the pressure of class, extracurriculars, and family obligations.  After looking closely at the data from our annual Missouri Assessment of College Health Behaviors (MACHB), we knew we had our work cut out for us:  Not only did we need to share with students that misuse of these drugs was illegal and against campus policy, we needed to provide them with alternative choices.

Our MoSafeRx program was three fold.  We provided places for students and staff to dispose of unused prescription medications and provided students with prescriptions the opportunity to lock their medicines up in a safer way.  Some students in Missouri felt that they were pressured to give their ADHD medications to other students or they were in fear that they would be stolen.  Providing locking caps and other education about safe storage and disposal was very important. Secondly, we used peer education and a social media campaign to get our message out to students.  Students at colleges throughout Missouri were trained in peer education tactics by NASPA, BACCHUS Initiatives and they used Generation RX materials to provide education to their fellow students.  They had two talking points:  using prescription drugs without a prescription is illegal and dangerous and there are other alternatives to using prescription drugs to sleep, study, or relieve pain.

These strategies were supported by poster campaigns and social media messages that didn’t just share the bad news, but rather gave students information about using the student health resources on campuses, rather than using pain medications without a prescription.  Students were given sleep strategies and information about balancing college life with healthy sleep.  These messages were promoted so that students could learn that the use of prescription sleeping aids was not the answer, unless that medication was prescribed.

Our project also spent a great deal of time in outreach and media messaging to students about using study groups, planning for study in advance, time management, and using campus learning support resources.  By sharing these study resources, we hoped students would turn to “studying” before “study drugs”.

Overall, we considered our project to be a success.  We are grateful for the support from the Missouri Department of Mental Health for their foresight for this important project.  Over the course of the three year project, use rates remained steady, but consideration of risk and other injunctive norms related to prescription drug use improved.  While national rates of illegal prescription drugs rise among the collegiate population, we feel that our project succeeded at keeping rates at minimal levels, rather than following the national trend.

Check out more about our project at or find us on Facebook and Twitter at @MoSafeRx.

Photo of Joan MastersJoan Masters is the Senior Coordinator of Partners in Prevention and has worked with PIP since 2001. Joan is responsible for the training and technical assistance that PIP provides, provides oversight to the Partners in Prevention projects such as the Missouri College Health Behavior Survey and the problem gambling and suicide and mental health grants. She is able to assist campuses with coalition building, building peer education programs, and strategic planning. Joan is a Missouri Advanced Certified Substance Abuse Prevention Provider and received both her Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees from the University of Missouri. In addition to her work with PIP, Joan is currently serving as the Area Consultant for The BACCHUS Network.