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By Brian Sibille
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012
A Student Health Center pharmacy has filled nearly 19,000 prescriptions since June 2011, and a look at the most frequently prescribed drugs tells a lot about the LSU student body.
Birth control, allergy medicine and antibiotics were filled most often, but medications that were significantly popular, like antidepressants, as well as those less common, like Adderall, paint an informative picture of University students and how they fit into nationwide trends.
Though they aren’t in demand as often as contraceptives and allergy medications, antidepressants are filled frequently by the pharmacy year-round, with nearly 800 prescriptions filled in the last year, said Carolyn Lancon, SHC pharmacy director.
Lancon said a popular anti-depressant is the generic form of Lexapro, which is used to treat depression and anxiety that lasts more than six months, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
But absent from the list of the top prescriptions are drugs that have become notoriously popular among college students — ADHD medications like Adderall.
Lancon said the drug is not commonly prescribed because of high cost and short shelf life. A shortage in ADHD medication during the past year also accounted for less demand. She said the pharmacy only provides two ADHD drugs, both different versions of Adderall.
The most-prescribed drug since June 2011 is, not surprisingly, a contraceptive — Loestrin 24 Fe, which sells at $15 per monthly pack. The pharmacy has filled more than 8,000 prescriptions for Loestrin since June 2011.
The pharmacy tries to provide students with medication at the cheapest possible price, Lancon said. She attributed part of Loestrin’s popularity to its low cost.
TriNessa, a contraceptive that is commonly used to treat acne, is also in high demand.
During spring months, allergy medication also becomes popular as outside allergens become more abundant, Lancon said.
Lancon said the pharmacy is drawing big numbers, as nearly 15,000 of the prescriptions filled in the last year were new.
She said students are drawn to the on-campus pharmacy because it’s a more convenient place to get prescriptions filled. Students can transfer prescriptions from doctors in their hometowns or around Baton Rouge.
DRUGS ACROSS THE U.S.
Whether students are becoming more aware of the campus pharmacy or the necessity of prescription medications is increasing, the University’s drug trends are on par with much of the country, said Kathy Saichuk, SHC health promotion coordinator.
University students participate in the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment survey every semester. Results from the spring 2011 survey show that University students are not different from peers at other institutions.
About 60 percent of students nationwide said they or their partner take some form of birth control pills. Of the roughly 1,000 LSU students surveyed, 64 percent said they used birth control.
Nationally and at LSU, about half of students said they had vaginal intercourse in the last 30 days.
The University also matched up nationally with depression rates, with about 10 percent of students at LSU and other schools saying they had been diagnosed with depression by a professional in the last 12 months.
“Mental health issues have increased across the board,” Saichuk said. “Our students aren’t any different.”
ADHD medication addiction is still a concern even though the pharmacy doesn’t carry many ADHD medications, she said.
Adderall and similar medications have become some of the most profitable drugs for illegal sales, Saichuk said. She said students at the University and across the U.S. are increasingly buying the drugs, sometimes only for use before important tests.
But drugs like Adderall are highly addictive, and pharmacies are developing ways to keep people from abusing the prescription medication system, she said. A national registry has been created that displays the drugs prescribed to certain individuals so abuse can be stopped.
ADHD prescriptions also require patients to meet monthly with a doctor because of the drug’s potential for abuse, Saichuk said.
REASONS BEHIND THE PRESCRIPTIONS
While noting that many students come to school with drugs already prescribed to them, independence and the unfamiliar college environment often spur students to consider taking drugs like birth control, Saichuk said.
The SHC tries to reach out to students to express the importance of birth control and other drugs as they begin exploring “newfound freedom,” Saichuk said.
“The presence of the pharmacy is constantly expressed,” she said.
That same freedom from parents and extended time from home can also have a negative effect on students, sometimes causing stress and depression, said Darrell Ray, assistant vice chancellor of LSU First Year Experience.
Ray said college can be a shock for students unfamiliar with a relaxed lifestyle.
Though some students adjust with ease, many find the task of making new friends and adjusting to living away from home overwhelming, he said. While depression is rare among struggling students, some experience stress that keeps them from returning after the first semester.
“The stakes are much higher than in high school,” he said. “Some students have difficulty adjusting to that.”
Ray said his department encourages students to get involved and meet new people in their dorms or through student organizations. He said some students are referred to the SHC when necessary, but antidepressants are prescribed only in the most severe cases.
“To rise to the level of medication, there are long-term and external issues at play,” Ray said