Misuse of pharmaceuticals by regular psychostimulant users is linked to mental health problems

Caroline L. Salom, Lucinda A. Burns, Rosa Alati

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17711/SM.0185-3325.2017.034


Introduction. Misuse of pharmaceutical drugs, particularly by young people, is an issue of rising concern. Poly-substance use is common among regular psychostimulant users (RPU), and mental health problems are associated with pharmaceutical misuse, but RPU do not generally acknowledge their use as problematic.

Objective. To examine links between mental health and misuse of non-prescription pharmaceuticals in a group of regular users of illicit psychostimulants.

Method. Face to face structured interviews were conducted in April 2015 with 763 regular users of illicit psychostimulants as part of the Annual Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System study in Australia.

Results. At least half of the RPU in this study reported extra-medical or misuse of pharmaceuticals in the last six months in addition to regular use of illicit psychostimulants. Higher levels of psychological distress were recorded for RPU who also reported recent illicit use of opioids, antidepressants, benzodiazepines, or over-the-counter (OTC) codeine. Recent misuse of benzodiazepines or OTC codeine was associated with self-reported mental health problems and having attended a mental health professional. Those reporting recent misuse of opioids were at increased risk of mental health problems and more likely to record high levels of psychological distress, but less likely to have received prescription medications for their mental health problem.

Discussion and conclusion. Regular users of illicit psychostimulants who also misuse pharmaceuticals are at increased risk of mental health problems, even after accounting for their use of illicit psychostimulants. Screening of this group for mental health problems is recommended.


Non-prescription drugs; substance abuse; mental disorders; substance-related disorders; recreational drugs

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