Recreational use of prescription medications among Canadian young people: Identifying disparities

Ariel Pulver, Colleen Davison, William Pickett


OBJECTIVES: While the recreational use of prescription medications is widely recognized as a growing public health issue, there are limited epidemiological studies on patterns of use in Canada, particularly studies identifying populations at highest risk. The objective of this study was to describe recreational prescription drug use among Canadian adolescents by age, sex, socio-economic, immigration and geographic status.
METHODS: Data were obtained from grade 9 and 10 students participating in the 2009/2010 cycle of the nationally representative Canadian Health Behaviour in School-aged Children study (n=10,429). Students were asked about past-year recreational use of pain relievers, stimulants and sedative/tranquilizer medications. Cross-tabulations and multi-level Poisson regression were conducted to evaluate the prevalence of use and to explore disparities.
RESULTS: Approximately 7% of students reported past-year recreational use of one or more prescription medication(s). Females reported 1.25 times the risk of recreational use of pain relievers as compared with males (95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.04-1.51). Students of lower socio-economic status (SES) were 2.41 times more likely to report recreational use of any type of medication (95% CI: 1.94-2.99). Recreational use of pain reliever medications was highest among rural youth living in close proximity to urban centres. Rates for all medications were similar between immigrant and non-immigrant students.
CONCLUSIONS: Recreational prescription drug use disproportionately affects certain subgroups of youth, including females, those of lower SES and those in some rural settings more than others. These results provide foundational data to inform preventive efforts aimed at management of the nonmedical use and divergence of prescription medications.


Adolescence; epidemiology; substance abuse; prescription drug misuse

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