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Study: Students with Disabilities More Likely to Have SUD

September 21, 2020

College students with physical and cognitive disabilities have high rates of illicit drug use and are more likely to have a substance use disorder, according to a recent study at Rutgers University.

The study looked at 6,189 college or university students in the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 15% of whom had a disability that impacted hearing, sight, mobility or mental/emotional functioning. Illicit drugs included: marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, methamphetamine, and prescription medications (pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives). Among the findings:

  • Students with a disability were nearly twice as likely to misuse prescription pain relievers within the previous month and three times as likely to meet the criteria for past-year dependence or abuse of any illicit drug. More specifically, rates of OxyContin misuse were 2 ½ times higher among students with a disability.
  • 40% of students with a disability reported having used illicit drugs vs. 30% of students without a disability.
  • Nearly 3% of students with a disability reported having used heroin vs. 1% of those without a disability.

“Our findings suggest that health care providers be aware of the risk of drug misuse when treating college students with disabilities, particularly when prescribing medications that may lead to abuse or dependence,” Judith Graber, associate professor at Rutgers School of Public Health, said in a news release. “Also drug prevention and treatment programs should include interventions for college students with disabilities, especially cognitive.”

Findings of the study were published by Disability and Health Journal.

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