Indians, North American; Substance-Related Disorders; Community-Based Participatory Research; Surveys and Questionnaires


Other Public Health | Substance Abuse and Addiction


Background: Prescription medications, particularly opioids, are often abused rather than used as intended by the prescribing physician. This is well-documented, though little data are available on American Indians. Misuse of other prescription medications is far less documented, but does occur and can have wide-spread effects.

Methods: We used a cross-sectional survey of American Indians in the Midwestern US (N=361) to begin to understand misuse of prescription medications, not necessarily to get high, but for any reason. Participants were recruited for this touchscreen computer-based survey at powwows, health fairs, and other community events through a convenience sample. We asked questions about sharing medication, as well as whether or not an individual finished a prescribed run of antibiotics. We asked about sharing prescription allergy medicine, antacids, antibiotics, pain relievers, water pills (diuretics), medicines for asthma, blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, epilepsy, or heart disease, or other. We used stepwise logistic regression to determine the demographic variables most predictive of taking someone else’s medication.

Results: Over one-third of participants in this survey (33.8%) confessed to having taken medication prescribed for someone else. The medications individuals most commonly took from someone else were pain relievers (23.6%) and antibiotics (22.0%). The medications most commonly given to someone else were similar, but changed in order, with antibiotics at 21.4% and pain relievers at 15.9%. The factors most predictive of sharing prescription medications were having grown up on a reservation (p=0.012), reporting poor health status (p=0.013), and not having seen a provider in the past year (p=0.074).

Conclusions: This is an area of research that warrants further study, particularly antibiotic misuse. The literature on pain reliever misuse expands daily, but there are dramatic effects to the larger population with the misuse of antibiotics. Interventions are necessary for American Indian communities and others to target all prescription medication misuse.