Student aims to learn what motivates people to abuse prescription drugs

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Virginia Commonwealth University doctoral student has received a prestigious seed grant from the Association for Psychological Science to study why people take prescription drugs — notably including prescription stimulants, painkillers and anti-anxiety medication — for nonmedical purposes.

Tess Drazdowski, a fourth-year doctoral student in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, was named a winner of the APS Student Research Grant Competition, which provides small funding to support research in its initial development stages.

Drazdowski became interested in prescription drug abuse while teaching parenting classes in Virginia's prison system as part of a graduate assistantship over the past three years at VCU.

"[While teaching the parenting classes] I've heard a lot of peoples' stories and have become interested in diversions from the criminal justice system — ways to prevent incarceration," she said. "A lot of their stories revolve around drug use, and many of their stories involve prescription drug use."

As part of her research project, Drazdowski is hoping to understand what motivates people to start using prescription drugs, as well as what motivates them to continue using them.

"Ideally, this research will eventually help develop interventions and prevention programs that could stop people from starting to use prescription drugs by targeting their motivations," she said.

Drazdowski plans to conduct a secondary data analysis of the Monitoring the Future data set, which is a nationally collected survey of the behaviors, attitudes and values of American secondary school students, college students and young adults. Specifically, she hopes to access the data set's longitudinal sample, which provides more detailed information on a small portion of students to follow over time.

"I'll be able to ask such questions as: What predicts substance use? What leads to it? How do these patterns change over time?" she said.

Drazdowski's adviser, Wendy Kliewer, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Psychology, said that Drazdowski is a "real go-getter" who takes initiative to pursue research that is both interesting and important to society.

"This dissertation project has the potential to help us understand why young adults use prescription medication for nonmedically prescribed reasons — a phenomenon that has been increasing in recent years — and thus may help inform prevention and intervention efforts in this area," she said. "As far as we know, the study Tess has proposed has not been undertaken with the nationally representative sample that she is planning to use for her project, nor has the range of prescription medication and the motivations for their use been examined with a nationally representative sample of young adults."

Drazdowski said she was honored to receive the award, and is excited for the opportunity.

"I have a big sense of pride," she said. "And it's great to know that other people are concerned about the same public health issue that I am and that they're willing to invest money into trying to solve these problems and make peoples' lives better."


Feature image at top: "Prescription Drugs" by Flickr user R. Nial Bradshaw


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