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Study likens prescription drug abuse to alcohol as risk for sexual assault

Prescription drug abuse by college students can play a role in sexual experiences students later regret and in sexual assaults in the same way alcohol does, according to a University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions study.

“The responsibility for rape or any sexual assault always falls squarely with the perpetrator,” said Kathleen Parks, senior research scientist, in a statement.

But she said the study in the journal Addictive Behaviors indicated that the non-medical use of prescription drugs, particularly anti-anxiety medications and sedatives, can have similar effects as alcohol, including slowed decision-making and physical coordination, which can decrease the ability to recognize danger or fend off a potential perpetrator, she said

She and her colleagues found that among the 1,755 students studied, more than 500 reported non-medical use of prescription painkillers, sedatives and stimulants. Of those who misused the drugs, more than 14 percent experienced sex they regretted, and among the female students, 7.1 percent reported being victims of sexual assault. Significantly, the researchers said, the only prescription drugs associated with regretted sex and sexual assault were anti-anxiety medications and sedatives such as Xanax, Valium and Ambien.

The study did not find that non-medical use of opioid painkillers or stimulants was associated with negative sexual events.

Given the results of this study, parents and college administrators should find ways to educate students about the potential dangers, Parks said.

More than 23 percent of female undergraduate college students reported being the victims of sexual assault or sexual misconduct due to physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation, according to a survey of more than 150,000 students at 27 colleges by the Association of American Universities.

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