Nonmedical use of prescription medications among adolescents in the United States: a systematic review

J Adolesc Health. 2012 Jul;51(1):6-17. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.01.011. Epub 2012 Apr 4.


Purpose: The purpose of this review was to systematically summarize research on nonmedical use of prescription medications (NMUPM) among U.S. adolescents, with specific focus on scheduled medications falling into one of the following drug classes: pain relievers, stimulants, sedatives, or tranquilizers.

Methods: Databases were searched for peer-reviewed primary quantitative research published between January 2000 and June 2011 on NMUPM among out-of-treatment U.S. adolescents aged 12-17 years (or age 18 if enrolled in high school).

Results: Thirty publications met inclusion criteria. A total of 25 studies were represented; 15 involved nationally representative samples. The prevalence and correlates of NMUPM varied across studies and by drug class. Nonmedical use of pain relievers was more prevalent than for stimulants, sedatives, and tranquilizers. Female gender was generally associated with pain reliever use and, to a lesser degree, with tranquilizer use. White adolescents also appeared to have a higher prevalence of NMUPM, although there was some evidence to the contrary. Older age, illicit drug use, and delinquency were consistently associated with NMUPM across studies.

Conclusions: This review identified several areas for further research, including that of racially/ethnically diverse samples of adolescents, more focus on sedative and tranquilizer use, and longitudinal research to examine temporal patterns in NMUPM and other illicit drug use, delinquency, and substance abuse and dependence.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prescription Drugs*
  • Prevalence
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Prescription Drugs