A behavioral economic analysis of the nonmedical use of prescription drugs among young adults


The nonmedical use of prescription drugs is a widely recognized public health issue, and young adults are particularly vulnerable to their use. Behavioral economic drug purchase tasks capture an individual's strength of desire and motivation for a particular drug. We examined young adult prescription drug purchase and consumption patterns using hypothetical behavioral economic purchase tasks for prescription sedatives/tranquilizers, stimulants, and opiate pain relievers. We also examined relations between demand, use frequency, and Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM-5) substance use disorder (SUD) symptoms, and sex differences in these relations. Undergraduate students who endorsed past-year prescription drug use (N = 393) completed an online questionnaire for course credit. Measures assessed substance use frequency and DSM-5 SUD symptoms. Hypothetical purchase tasks for sedatives, stimulants, and pain relievers assessed participants' consumption and expenditure patterns for these substances across 25 prices. Past-year prescription sedative, stimulant, and pain reliever use was endorsed by 138, 258, and 189 participants, respectively. Among these users, consumption for their respective substance decreased as a function of ascending price, as expected. Demand indices for a prescription drug were associated with each other and with use frequency and SUD symptoms, with variability across substances but largely not by sex. In addition, demand for prescription pain relievers differentially predicted symptoms independent of use, with differences for females and males. In conclusion, hypothetical consumption and expenditure patterns for prescription drugs were generally well described by behavioral economic demand curves, and the observed associations with use and SUD symptoms provide support for the utility of prescription drug purchase tasks.

Publication Title

Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology