Non-prescription psychiatric drugs for 10% adolescents in 2022

Non-prescription psychiatric drugs for 10% adolescents in 2022

Just under 300 thousand high school students, equal to 10.8% of 15-19 year olds, took psychotropic drugs without a prescription during 2022. The figure, which had reached its peak in 2017 (11.3%) before falling to 6.6% in 2021, it has almost doubled since last year. This is the trend that emerges from a study by the Institute of Clinical Physiology of the National Research Council of Pisa (Cnr-Ifc) – Espad* Italia (European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs) – conducted in 2022 on a representative sample of Italian high school students, as every year since 1999.

“We have been denouncing this phenomenon for many years – explains Sabrina Molinaro, Cnr-Ifc researcher and head of the study – In fact, non-prescription psychiatric drugs have always been the category of psychoactive substances most used by very young people after alcohol and cannabis”. These are mainly medicines for sleeping, used above all by girls (10.8% against 4.9% of peers). Lower prevalences result for drugs for attention/hyperactivity (almost 3%), for regulating mood and for diets (just under 3% each), which are also used more by girls: almost 4% against 1% of peers”.

What strikes the researchers is the doubling in one year of the students who report frequent use of it, which goes from 1.1% in 2021 to 1.9% in 2022, as well as the high percentage of boys who report it a so-called ‘competent’ use, especially among girls. If around 5% of users report generic off-prescription use aimed at getting high (it was 10% in 2021), 49% of teenagers who report using drugs for attention without medical supervision say instead they do it to improve their school performance and 64% of those who use diet drugs say they do it to improve their physical appearance.

“53% of the kids who used psychotropic drugs without a prescription in 2022 – continues Molinaro – report having used them previously even under medical supervision”.

The study also finds information related to accessibility, revealing that 16% of students know of places where psychiatric drugs can easily be obtained without a prescription. The most easily accessible category is that of sleeping pills, while those for which students report the most difficulty finding are attention pills. Almost 50% of users know they can find them directly at home, 18.7% at a friend’s house. There is also an electronic market for these drugs, as reported by 29% of young people, and a more traditional physical market.

‘Given their therapeutic value when used as part of a clinical pathway, as well as their widespread availability in the general population, the availability of these substances among the very young is potentially unlimited,’ the researchers report. Hence the urgency of launching targeted information and education campaigns, especially dedicated to the youngest, but also to the adults of reference, from family members to teachers, as well as to continue active monitoring of this growing phenomenon.


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