Building on Lessons Learned, Missouri Targets Prescription Drug Misuse on College Campuses


Prescription drug misuse and abuse—especially among youth and young adults—is a growing national concern. So much so that, in 2012, SAMHSA made it a priority focus area—along with alcohol misuse—of its Partners for Success (PFS) II grant program. PFS II extends previous grant programs that were designed to better align federal, state, and community prevention efforts.

Missouri—where the Department of Mental Health reports that misuse of pain medication, especially among those ages 18 to 25, is contributing to increased drug-related deaths in the state—applied for and received a PFS II grant to target prescription drug misuse and abuse alongside its continuing efforts to reduce underage drinking.

The state’s plan for the grant award is to support coalitions that can reach its target audiences. For its continuing efforts around underage drinking, the state is working with coalitions in three communities. And to address prescription drug misuse and abuse, the state is working with an existing consortium of colleges and universities—called Partners in Prevention (PIP)—as it takes what it has learned from successfully reducing alcohol misuse and applies that knowledge to non-medical prescription drug use.

Building on Success

PIP is a higher education substance misuse consortium dedicated to creating healthy and safe college campuses. Originally comprising 12 member schools, PIP was launched in 2000 with funding from the Department of Education to address alcohol misuse on college campuses.

Today, PIP has 21 member schools with a combined student population of approximately 161,000, and is widely recognized as a major reason binge drinking rates have been going down on college campuses around the state in recent years. PIP found, for example, that among college students younger than 21 years, alcohol consumption in "last 30 days" decreased from 62% in 2007 to 53% in 2012.

“It was a win-win situation to partner with PIP,” said Susan Depue, the state’s PFS II project director. “The state wants to reduce non-medical prescription drug use among college-age adults and PIP already has an existing network of prevention partners on college campuses that we can plug into. They have a history of success reducing alcohol consumption and a rich depth of knowledge about how to effectively reach our target audience with prevention messages and activities.”

Housed at the University of Missouri in Columbia, PIP staff host monthly consortium meetings, maintain regular contact with campus consortium representatives—which include campus conduct and prevention professionals as well as law enforcement professionals—and provide ongoing technical assistance and development and dissemination of resource materials.

PIP also is responsible for the annual Missouri College Health Behavior Survey (MCHBS), which covers a wide variety of behavioral health topics among college students. Under the PFS II grant, the number of questions regarding prescription drug use has been expanded to create a baseline of data against which the success of its prevention efforts can be measured.

According to its most recent MCHBS, in 2012, nine percent of Missouri college students surveyed used prescription drugs—particularly stimulants such as Ritalin® and Adderall®, and pain medications such as Oxycontin® and Percocet®—without a doctor’s prescription. The survey also revealed that students misuse and abuse prescription medications primarily for academic improvement and/or pain relief, and that they do so because the drugs are easy to access and students lack knowledge about their dangers.

Proven Strategies

According to Joan Masters, PIP’s director, PIP provide technical support and some funding to its members to support the use of evidence-based substance misuse prevention approaches known to produce results on college campuses. To address prescription drug misuse and abuse, these approaches will include several that have proven successful in reducing binge drinking. They include:

  • Prevention education, including peer-to-peer education efforts about the dangers and consequences of non-medical use of prescription drugs
  • Social norming, which will seek to correct students’ misperceptions that “everyone” is misusing or abusing prescription drugs
  • Environmental management, which will include working with local law enforcement to hold prescription drug “take-back” events on campuses

PIP staff work with the member schools to create an annual strategic prevention plan using a tailored mix of these proven practices. Staff also gives each school between $2,500 and $10,000 in funding annually to support the activities that will help them achieve their campus-wide prevention goals.

“PIP’s philosophy is not to design a prevention education program, for example, and say to our member schools, ‘you have to implement it this way,’” said Masters. “We have broad diversity among campuses, with large state schools, smaller private schools, two historically black colleges, several religiously affiliated institutions, and one technical school. We help them determine what would work best to meet their unique needs and make the biggest impact with their students.”

Masters mentioned that a very important resource for the Missouri schools is Generation Rx, a collaborative program between the Cardinal Health Foundation and Ohio State University’s College of Pharmacy. The program was created in 2007 to “combat the increasing misuse and abuse of prescription drugs through educational prevention.” The program offers free toolkits and other resources available to a variety of audiences.

“During the first year of targeting prescription drug misuse, I’m confident that our member campuses will see that they are well-equipped to address this or any substance abuse issue,” said Masters. “They can take what they’ve learned from successfully reducing alcohol abuse and make progress toward this new priority. They’ve done these things before. They know when, where, and how to reach their students. They know what types of messages work and what types don’t. They know how to take evidence-based practices and adapt them to the unique needs on their campuses.”

For more information, contact Missouri PFS II Project Director Susan Depue at

Learn more about SAMHSA’s PFS grant programs.


Last Updated: 09/24/2015