I Have to Drive 6 Hours for Pain Care

By Bailey Parker, Guest Columnist

I feel so alone and isolated. There have been times I wanted to die, but my 5-year old son keeps me going. I get up every day for him.

About two years after he was born, I had a car wreck. I hit a coyote at 60 mph and ripped the radiator off my car. The doctors told me I had the spine of an 80-year old and needed a double level fusion in my neck.

I was 34 then and in tremendous amounts of pain. But after reading online stories in spine health forums, I was skeptical about the surgery. Everything told me to wait. So I did, for a year. I saw three surgeons and a neurologist. They all told me to have the surgery.

I live in a small city in southwest Colorado. When it comes to opioid pain medication, all the doctors here seem to have taken the stance, “We just don’t do that here.” The nearest city is Albuquerque, New Mexico, which means a 4-hour drive for me across state lines, or a 6-hour drive to Denver over mountain passes.

Before my surgery, one of the doctors of orthopedic medicine prescribed my pain medication. For two months, I was able to work again and was beginning to get back on my feet. I remember thinking at the time that I didn’t want to take medication for the rest of my life, but the fusion sounded worse.

The third month in I called for a refill of my medication. They told me no, but wouldn’t say why or give me a follow up exam with the doctor. He was too busy and couldn’t see me for a month. I waited one excruciating month and went to see him, asking what happened.



He had looked at my prescription records and saw a prescription for narcotics from another doctor for when I had cystic fibroids on my ovaries. It was not the same pain medication as what he prescribed me, and I didn’t even know they were the same type of medicine.  

Even though I had a broken neck, he did not feel comfortable prescribing to me anymore. His office then took 6 months to get my medical records sent to my primary care doctor. I had to physically go in and yell at them that I was about to have major surgery. This was the first time I felt treated like an addict, but not the last.

I went to my primary care physician and explained what happened with this other doctor. We have a very good relationship. She knows all of my medical history. She handled my pain medication before my surgery but was very clear that she would not do it for an extended period.

I never take more medication than prescribed. I am not an addict. I do everything they tell me. I was walking and doing yoga every day, just as the doctors recommended. I took my vitamins and a fruit shake every day.

After the fusion surgery, things just didn’t feel right. I was in tremendous pain again and this time there was more of it in different places. I told the physician’s assistant at my surgeon’s office and he told me to just get off all the drugs. He said it would help. He told me I would be fine. I wasn’t.

I struggled for another month before I demanded to see the surgeon. He told me I would benefit from OxyContin and gave me a week’s supply. For the first time since my accident, I was able to work and properly care for my son. My depression lifted. But when I called to tell them that I was doing good on the medication, they said it was time to go back to my primary care doctor and any further medication would have to be prescribed by her.

I went to see her, but she still did not feel comfortable handling my care and referred me to a pain clinic 6 hours away. I was in despair, thinking that I had crippled myself for life and would lose my job, my son and my husband. All of these relationships were strained at this point.

The pain clinic helped me get my life back. They are compassionate and good to the people that come through their doors. It’s a common misconception that pain patients want to take medication. We don’t. We just want some of our lives back and pain medication helps us have that.

A year after my fusion, the surgeon met me again. The fusion had failed, and he wanted to do a revision that would be more painful than the first. He also told me he thought my pain might be caused by fibromyalgia. I’ve never been so angry. I have pain because of my broken neck. Pompous arrogant doctor with no aftercare.

Here is my dilemma, I’ve gotten better care in a big city, where they do not treat me like an addict. I’ve gotten my life back. At first, I was able to go there every three months to get my medication, but with the laws changing, they now say I have to go every month. Driving 6 hours both ways with a 5-year-old and a broken neck is hard. But quality of life and pain are great motivators.

My experience has left me with so much anger towards doctors in my area. It seems their Hippocratic oath has been trumped by the opioid crisis and fear of administrative action. I do not tell people about the medication that helps my quality of life for fear of judgement and stigma. Unless they have been through chronic pain, they simply don’t understand.

I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.


Bailey Parker lives in Colorado.

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us. Send them to editor@painnewsnetwork.org.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Life After Pain Meds

By Dana Stephenson, Guest Columnist

It was a warm October afternoon in 1997 when my boyfriend called and asked if I wanted to go for a ride. Being from the northeast and motorcycle season was almost coming to an end, I said sure.

I often wonder how my life would have played out if I had just stayed home that day.

It started out as a normal ride with another friend, until the friend took off down a back road. Being just 18, my boyfriend took off after him. Long story short, the road turned and we did not. We slammed head-on into a telephone pole at 85 mph. The brakes on a motorcycle don't work so well when the wheels aren't touching the ground.

I was airlifted to a hospital and was in critical condition for several weeks. I spent 10 months in the hospital and had at least eight surgeries for a fractured spine and pelvic bone, pierced colon, and bruised heart, lungs and kidney. On the outside, I only had a few scratches but I was lucky to be alive at all, considering I wasn't wearing a helmet. 

Sadly, the worst was yet to come.  I kept asking the nurses, “Where’s Mike?” The nurses would act like they couldn't hear me. I understand now they were just doing their job, but at the time I thought I was going crazy.

Three days into my hospital stay, I asked my dad the same question. He gave a simple reply, four words that I'll never forget: "He didn't make it."

Not only was this my first experience with broken bones, surgery and stitches, it was also my first experience with death.

Pain medications were necessary, along with some counseling. I made it out of the wheelchair, off the walker, and then finally the crutches. The doctors called me a walking, talking miracle.

After a few years they transferred me to pain management and I slowly began developing a new problem. To people that didn't know my story, I appeared to be normal. Pharmacists always gave me the impression that they thought I was a drug addict. Why is this young, healthy-looking girl taking such high doses of painkillers? Over the years this began to bother me more and more.

Ten years after my accident, I finally decided to get a spinal fusion, hoping the pain would go away and the social judgement would finally stop. Well, that didn't go as planned. In the 10 years since my initial fracture, I had developed scoliosis. During surgery the doctor pulled so hard on my spine, trying to get it as straight as possible before screwing it in place, he ended up re-fracturing it. Now I was in worse shape than before. 



Yet a new chapter of my life began. I had to accept that at age 29, I was going to have to file for disability. After a two-year struggle they approved my application, after first denying it because of my age. That's not even legal.

After 15 years of being in pain and treated like a junkie, I had enough. It was time to get off all pain medication. I went the Suboxone route and it definitely helped with the withdrawals. After a few years I quit that too.

Of course, I'm still in a lot of pain but taking the medications again is just not worth it to me. I moved away from home, so I wouldn’t be tempted to bum pills off my old connections.

I can honestly say I haven touched a pain pill in over 5 years. It's not easy, but I'm going to be in pain with or without the pills.


Dana Stephenson lives in Florida.

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us. Send them to editor@painnewsnetwork.org.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

4 P’s That Can Help Lower Pain Levels

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

Having lived with chronic pain for 21 years -- with diagnoses such as arthritis, TMJ disorder, endometriosis, hypothyroid, ischemia, seizures, reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) and thoracic outlet syndrome -- I know what life with a chronic condition is like.

I have tried many different treatment options, yet still have not found “the cure.” That doesn’t mean I have stopped looking. As part of my continuing alphabet series on alternative pain treatments, this month I am covering 4 P’s of pain management: physical therapy, pain medications, prolotherapy and psychology. 

Physical Therapy

Also known as PT and physiotherapy, physical therapy uses movement through manual therapy, exercise, and electro-therapy to improve range of motion, mobility, function and daily living.

Used incorrectly, physical therapy can be harmful. It is very important to get a physical therapist that understands your health condition, knows when to push you and when to hold you back, and can teach you exercises you can learn to do independently.

A good physical therapist will do research on your condition and help educate you about your body’s limits and potential for improvement. They will also be in regular contact with your doctor and other healthcare providers.

Due to insurance practices in the United States, the number of physical therapy sessions is often limited and rarely lasts throughout a chronic illness. But many of the techniques can be continued at home on the patient’s time, once they learn how to do them properly.


When I first started physical therapy, I did all of the wrong exercises because my therapist didn’t know or understand the conditions I have. My mentality at the time was no pain no gain, so we both over-worked me. It made things far worse than if had I done nothing in the first place.

Once I was with the right physical therapist, I began to see improvements in my daily function. We learned together it wasn’t about pushing my limits, but more about working as a team to find ways around the physical limitations I had.

Pain Medication

When the average person hears the words “pain medication” they often think about opioids. But there are a many different types of pain medication available, including medical cannabis, NSAIDs, benzodiazepines, tricyclic antidepressants, alcohol, kratom, cox-2 inhibitors, and muscle relaxers.

Based on my speaking with medical professionals and researchers, I believe that all options -- including opioids -- should be on the table when a provider is deciding what is best for the patient.

I have heard from thousands of patients (of the millions who use opioids daily) who swear by two things. First, they have no other treatment option due to access or cost.  Second, there is no other treatment option that works as well as opioid medication.

I know that the evidence is weak on the long-term use of opioids. Every test, assessment and research study can be torn apart by opioid critics. But for me, it all comes down to this: If I have something that helps me function better and live a better quality of life, I want to have access to it. I have lost many friends to suicide due to uncontrolled pain and a few to addiction.


Opioids are not typically the first line of treatment. More and more, due to insurance company policies, guidelines and legislation, pain patients will get acetaminophen or NSAIDs, or be given nerve blocks, spinal injections or some other invasive procedure. Opioid medications are far less prescribed than they used to be. And many patients can’t get them at all.

Doctors are now being taught in medical school that what they prescribe should be determined by the type of pain someone has. For neuropathic pain, they are taught that traditional analgesics are less effective. Therefore, many providers will prescribe tricyclic antidepressants and anticonvulsants for nerve pain. And they will use topical NSAIDs creams and ointments for muscle sprains and overuse injuries.


Prolotherapy is an injection-based treatment used for pain conditions that involve musculoskeletal disorders, such as low back pain, tendonitis and knee osteoarthritis.

The injection is typically administered where joints and tendons connect to bone.  In theory, the injection creates an irritation to the injured area that helps stimulate healing. This technique that has been practiced since Roman times, when they used hot needles on gladiator injuries to promote healing.

Patients may report mild pain and irritation at the injection site, which usually goes away within 72 hours. They also may report numbness or minor bleeding right after the injection. There have been cases of disc and spinal injuries reported.

I used to hear a lot about prolotherapy 10-15 years ago, but I hear less and less about it now, as it is not typically used to treat nerve diseases. It is also not well reimbursed by insurance companies and Medicare has decided not to cover prolotherapy injections for low back pain at all.

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Psychology is used to help prevent the reliving of psychological distress or dysfunction, and to promote positive thoughts, well-being and personal skills. Psychology should not to be confused with psychiatry, which is the medical specialty devoted to the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of mental disorders.

I have undergone psychological counseling in both group and individual settings over the years. The time when I found it most helpful was before I finally got a proper diagnosis of RSD and started infusion therapy. At the time, I was beginning to feel like a guinea pig. Some providers didn’t know what to do with me and having a psychologist providing support and making sure my mental attributes were strong was very helpful. 

I still use some of the mindfulness techniques he taught me to this day. When I was getting ready for infusion therapy, I felt like I had tried every treatment available on earth. Having a professional psychologist to speak with and go over what happens if the infusion didn’t work prepared me for a worst-case outcome.

Luckily, I didn’t need it, but it did teach me that even though I felt like I had tried everything, there are always new options being created and that I had not actually tried everything.


This is one of the reasons I am so sure that the alternative treatments I have been presenting over the last 8 months are helpful to others. I never realized until I did the research that there are so many different things to try. Using a multi-modal approach to pain and understanding that the mind, body and spirit connection are real is important not to neglect.

There were times when my providers suggested that I go to a psychologist, and other times when I had to get psychological clearance for different procedures. I found that when I went to a session, I felt better about myself. It was "me time" -- a time to focus on getting through the depression and anxiety of living with a chronic illness.

I learned that chronic pain affects our brains and causes depression and anxiety, and that it was not the other way around. That there are tools and medications to address them, and that knowing myself and what is going on with my health was one of the best ways to get past the depression and anxiety.

Psychologists gave me aptitude tests to check my general knowledge, verbal skills, memory, attention, reasoning, and perception. A few also gave me personality and neuropsychological tests. The more I learned about myself, the better I was able to navigate through chronic illness, the people around me, and the better relationships I was able to achieve.

I once again look forward to reading your comments. What treatments have you tried, what has worked, and what didn’t work? What tips do you have to pass on to other readers? Have you found the treatment protocol that works for you?

I personally don’t believe that there is a magic pill or procedure that can cure chronic pain - yet. I also strongly believe that the patient and their providers should be making the decisions for what is best for the patient.

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Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain Foundation. She is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website. 

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

The Hidden Dangers of Self-Medicating with OTC Drugs

By James Campbell, MD, Guest Columnist

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently unveiled guidelines for primary care physicians on the use of opioids for chronic pain. Not surprisingly, the guidelines urge physicians to first try non-pharmacologic and non-opioid treatments before resorting to opioid therapy.

If you’re one of the millions of Americans living with pain on a daily basis, it’s likely you’re not a stranger to over-the-counter (OTC), non-prescription pain medications such as naproxen (brand name Aleve), ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin), aspirin and acetaminophen (Tylenol).

In fact, most of my patients with chronic pain began their quest for relief with a cocktail of OTC pain relievers, muscle relaxants and even alcohol, before seeking professional help and eventually graduating to prescription treatments such as opioids, anti-depressants and anticonvulsants.

While OTC pain medications are generally safe when taken at their recommended doses, it’s all too common for patients to unknowingly put themselves at risk of a fatal accidental overdose or serious drug-drug interactions by mixing OTC pain medications or taking them in combination with prescription treatments for pain or other common health conditions.

Given the sheer magnitude of serious adverse events and fatalities associated with opioids, the hidden, yet preventable dangers of the pain medications on your pharmacy shelves are not often discussed.

Let’s take one of the most common OTC pain relievers: acetaminophen. When used as directed within the advised dosing guidelines, acetaminophen is safe and effective. However, if a person takes more than one medication that contains acetaminophen and exceeds the maximum recommended dose, they may be at risk of serious liver damage.

This happens so often that acetaminophen overdose is the leading cause of calls to poison control centers in the United States -- more than 100,000 instances per year – and are responsible for more than 56,000 emergency room visits.

In fact, in 2011, in an effort to reduce the risk of severe liver injury from acetaminophen overdose, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asked drug manufacturers to limit the strength of acetaminophen in prescription medications, including combination acetaminophen and opioid products, to no more than 325 mg per tablet, capsule or other dosage unit.

Then in 2014, the FDA recommended that health care professionals discontinue prescribing and dispensing prescription combination products that contain more than 325 mg of acetaminophen.

While the FDA’s efforts may help curb accidental overdose related to prescription medications that contain acetaminophen (Tylenol with codeine, for example), it does little to address the risks of OTC acetaminophen or other OTC pain medications such as ibuprofen, a type of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), which can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and injury, and cardiovascular side effects when taken on a chronic basis.

Drug Interactions

In addition to the risk of overdose, people taking multiple OTC and prescription medications for pain and other conditions are also at risk of serious drug-drug interactions. Simply put, any “drug” – whether it be a medicine, vitamin, supplement or even alcohol – that enters your body and alters your natural internal chemistry has the potential to interact or alter the intended effect or unintended side effect of other medications.

Even though most medications are accompanied by warnings about combining them with other drugs, most vitamins and supplements are not -- so, unless you’re a licensed medical professional, it’s virtually impossible to recognize the potential for drug-drug interactions.

If you’re using OTC medications, whether alone or with prescription medications, to cope with pain on a daily basis, here are three precautionary steps you can take to safeguard yourself against the risk of accidental overdose or drug-drug interactions.

1) Recognize that ALL medications, whether OTC or prescription, can cause harm if used improperly, and the fact that some medications are available without a prescription does not mean they are inherently safe. Read the labels that come with your medications. Tylenol, Advil and Vicodin are household names, so it can be easy to overlook their “generic” names (or the active ingredient in each).

For example, the generic name for Tylenol is acetaminophen, while that of Vicodin is acetaminophen hydrocodone. Without close examination of either label, a person taking Vicodin and Tylenol together could be inadvertently exceeding the recommended dosage of acetaminophen.

2) Consult a medical professional before you take more than one medication on a daily basis. If your chronic pain is being treated by a physician, be sure to tell them (even if it’s on your medical history) about any OTC or prescription medications you are currently taking. This includes vitamins and other supplements that may seem harmless, but could interact with your pain medications.

3) If you are independently treating your chronic pain, make a list of all the medications, vitamins and supplements you take on a regular basis and share them with your local pharmacist. Pharmacists can identify potential drug-drug interactions like taking acetaminophen and ibuprofen on a long-term basis, which can result in an increased risk of developing kidney problems.

The American Chronic Pain Association also recommends using the same pharmacy for all your prescriptions, so that the pharmacist can screen health information and current medications to avoid the pitfalls of overdose and drug interactions.

As a neurosurgeon with a special interest in pain for over 30 years, I’m empathetic to the daily struggle that patients face and their desperate quest for relief, seeking anything and everything that can simply make the pain stop.

For the patients who are fighting this seemingly endless battle with pain without the help of a medical professional, I hope I’ve provided some useful information and practical advice to help avoid serious risks associated with self-medicating. However, people living with moderate to severe chronic pain may benefit from a consultation with a licensed pain management specialist, who can help guide you toward steps that will help reduce your pain. 

James Campbell, MD, has spent the last 30 years pioneering efforts to improve the diagnosis and treatment of patients with chronic pain. 

Dr. Campbell is professor emeritus of Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and is the founder of the Johns Hopkins Blaustein Pain Treatment Center - one of the largest pain research centers in the U.S. He is also a former president of the American Pain Society. 

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

U.N. Report: War on Drugs a Failure

By Pat Anson, Editor

The international war on drugs has been a costly failure that has created a “public health and human rights crisis,” according to a new report commissioned by the United Nations, which is meeting in special session this week to discuss global drug policy.

The 54-page report by the Johns Hopkins–Lancet Commission on Drug Policy and Health found that many drug policies are based on ideas about drug use and dependence that “are not scientifically grounded” and have been particularly harmful to pain patients.

The commission estimates that about 5.5 billion people worldwide do not have adequate access to controlled drugs for the management of pain. 

“Inequity of access to controlled drugs for pain management and other clinical uses is now a public health and human rights crisis,” the report found. “Yet the obligation to prevent abuse of controlled substances has received far more attention than the obligation to ensure their adequate availability for medical and scientific purposes, and this has resulted in countries adopting laws and regulations that consistently and severely impede accessibility of controlled medicines.”

The commission said there were many “myths and exaggerations” about opioid use that have stigmatized people who use the drugs. And rather than lowering the risk of abuse and addiction, drug prohibition was making the problem worse by forcing some people to turn to the streets for opioids.

“Prohibition creates unregulated illegal markets in which it is impossible to control the presence of adulterants in street drugs, which add to overdose risk,” the commission said. “The idea that all drug use is dangerous and evil has led to enforcement-heavy policies and has made it difficult to see potentially dangerous drugs in the same light as potentially dangerous foods, tobacco, and alcohol.”

Four mothers who lost their children to drugs have been invited by the Canadian government to attend the U.N. assembly on drug policy. One of them is Jennifer Woodside of Vancouver, whose 21-year son Dylan died of an overdose two years ago after he took a pill he thought was oxycodone, but was actually laced with illicit fentanyl.

 “This is a big epidemic,” Woodside told The Globe and Mail. “I think we’ve got our head in the sand if you think it can’t affect you.”

“The war on drugs has been a war on our families,” said Lorna Thomas, who also lost a son to an overdose of oxycodone and will attend the U.N. conference. “The starting point for it, that we were going to punish people out of using drugs has failed. People will continue to use drugs and we need to acknowledge that reality and keep people safe.”

As Pain News Network has reported, counterfeit pain medications laced with fentanyl began appearing in the U.S. this year and are blamed for a dozen overdose deaths in California and Florida. Coincidentally, the fake pain pills appeared just as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finalized new guidelines that discourage primary care physicians from prescribing opioids for chronic pain.  Many patients fear losing access to opioids because of the guidelines.

“These CDC guidelines are brand spanking new. I think it’s hard to draw any sort of conclusions from that,” said Rusty Payne, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration. “I don’t think the Mexican cartels are paying one lick of attention to what the CDC guidelines are. What they see are thousands and thousands of addicts that they can push a product on, whether it be heroin or now fentanyl. And introducing it in pill form is just another way to make a lot of money."

The U.N. report on drug policy recommends decriminalizing nonviolent drug offenses and phasing out the use of military forces to enforce drug laws.

“Policies meant to prohibit or greatly suppress drugs present a paradox. They are portrayed and defended vigorously by many policy makers as necessary to preserve public health and safety, and yet the evidence suggests that they have contributed directly and indirectly to lethal violence, communicable disease transmission, discrimination, forced displacement, unnecessary physical pain, and the undermining of people’s right to health,” the report concludes.

The president of Columbia, which has long been on the front lines of the war on drugs, will urge the U.N. to radically change drug policies.

"Vested with the moral authority of leading the nation that has carried the heaviest burden in the global war on drugs, I can tell you without hesitation that the time has come for the world to transit into a different approach in its drug policy," President Juan Manuel Santos wrote in a column published in The Guardian.       

"No other nation has had to endure the terrible effects of the world drug problem in such magnitude and over such extended period of time as Colombia. The international community can rest assured that, when we call for a new approach, we are not giving up on confronting the problem; we are moved by the aim of finding a more effective, lasting and human solution."

1 in 10 College Students Misusing Pain Meds

By Pat Anson, Editor

One out of 10 college students are misusing prescription pain medications, according to a new survey conducted on eight U.S. college campuses. About a third of students said it was easy or very easy to obtain pain medications.

Nearly 4,000 graduate and undergraduate students were surveyed in the 2015 College Prescription Drug Study (CPDS) by Ohio State’s Center for the Study of Student Life. 

The anonymous survey of students at six public and two private colleges and universities in five states is believed to be the most comprehensive study of prescription drug misuse on multiple campuses.

Stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin are the most widely misused prescription drug. About 18% of undergraduates reported misusing stimulants. The great majority (83%) received them from friends and most said they used the drug to help them study or improve their grades.

“At one time, college students most commonly misused drugs to get high,” said Kenneth Hale, a clinical professor of pharmacy at Ohio State. “But today, students also use medications to self-medicate, to manage their lives. They are using drugs to control pain, to go to sleep, to relieve anxiety and to study.”

For example, 55% of students who misused pain medications said they did it to relieve pain, while 46% said they did it to get high. More than half who misused sedatives said their aim was to get to sleep, while 85% who misused stimulants wanted to improve their grades or studying.

About 9% of undergrads used sedatives, with nearly half saying it was easy or very easy to find them on campus.

The misuse of prescription drugs often came with side effects. About 20% of those who used pain medications said they were depressed and 17% said they experienced memory loss.

Students may overestimate the value they get from using prescription drugs, particularly stimulants. About two-thirds of the students said stimulants had a positive effect on their academics, but researchers say that’s probably not true.

“Studies have shown that students who misuse stimulants tend to have lower GPAs,” Hale said. “Some students think of them as cognitive enhancers, but they are really cognitive compensators for students who didn’t go to class, didn’t study and then have to stay up all night to cram for an exam.”

Misuse of prescriptions drugs often led to illegal drugs. More than half of the undergraduates who misused prescribed meds had used illegal drugs in their place at some point. Marijuana was used by half of undergrads who misused controlled drugs, followed by cocaine and hallucinogens at 19 percent. Nearly 2% moved on to heroin.

“Research shows that the misuse of prescription pain medications can be a stepping stone to heroin, and the average age for starting the misuse of these medications falls within the traditional college years,” Hale said.

A 2012 survey found that one in four American teenagers has misused or abused a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime. The survey by The Partnership at Drugfree.org found that teenage abuse of opioids like Vicodin and OxyContin had leveled off but remains high. Over 2.1 million teens admitted misusing narcotic painkillers in the past year.