Research Brief: Protective Factors & Environmental Strategies Important

December 1, 2015

A study published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse concludes that even well know protective factors for prescription drug abuse can be insufficient for some young people. The study, conducted by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University, focused on religiosity (the degree to which someone's faith is truly important to them in their lives)a well-known protective factor reducing the likelihood of an individual misusing prescription medications. Generally, it is thought that religiosity functions as a protective factor because many religions have doctrines explicitly opposed to drug abuse, but also because religious participation usually provides access to a circle of friends likely to have negative attitudes toward non-medical uses of drugs. Thus, those who are relatively high in religiosity are less likely to misuse prescription drugs.

The authors surveyed 767 college students and found that, overall, higher scores in religiosity were, in fact, associated with lower likelihoods to misuse prescription drugs. However, their data indicated this effect was mostly negated for respondents who were members of Greek organizations on campus. That is, for students in Greek organizations, level of religiosity had no effect on their willingness to misuse prescription drugs. While the authors of the study did not have the data to identify exactly what it was about Greek organizations that produced the effect, this finding seems to suggest that regular social associations with groups that may have permissive attitudes toward some drug use (a known risk factor) can nullify even strong protective factors. They also found that certain personality factors such as "openness to experience" seemed to negate the protective influence of religiosity. Thus this study demonstrates how many personal and social factors can interact creating a situation where a young person might experiment with abusing prescription drugs. Put much more simply, in some cases, even young people who may exhibit exemplary decision-making behaviors can sometimes be inclined toward the abuse of prescription drugs.

Both local Student Drug Use Survey and national data sources1 indicate that most youth who abuse prescription drugs procure the medications from their own homes or the homes of their friends. Clearly, one effective strategy for reducing the abuse of prescription drugs is to reduce their availability to everyone except the person for whom they were prescribed. PreventionFIRST! is currently actively promoting two strategies for reducing the availability of prescription medications. 

First, we are working with local realtors and home builders to provide medication lockboxes (small safe-like devices) in which families can secure their medications. This simple action greatly reduces the likelihood that medications will be taken from the home covertly. Second, PreventionFIRST! is actively promoting processes and events where people can turn in for disposal any unused prescription medications. Some local pharmacies are participating by setting up disposal boxes in their stores. Some communities have regular events where medications can be brought in for safe disposal.

[1] Snipes, D.J. et al. (2014). Religiosity in the non-medical use of prescription medication in college students. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 41, 93-99. 

For more information on prescription drug abuse prevention, visit our website (click here).