Category: Professional Posters
Purpose: This study involved utilizing a standardized Substance Abuse Attitude Survey (SAAS) to measure explicit attitudes of early-level pharmacy students towards social drug use and substance users. The main question investigated here was whether students’ approval of recreational marijuana use (i.e. marijuana permissiveness), as compared to alcohol and other substances, has increased over the last four years. A second question was whether exposure to substance abuse education or a 12-step recovery program interacted with demographic factors (age, gender) to impact students’ attitudes towards substance use.
Methods: Participants in this study were pharmacy students at Western New England University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences who were either enrolled (intervention group) or not enrolled (control group) in a 15-week elective course focusing on drug abuse and addiction. The validated SAAS instrument with 49 Likert-type questions was administered online during the first week (baseline) and final week of the fall semester each year from 2015-2018. Data was collected anonymously in both groups and no incentives for completing the survey were provided. Individual rater scores and group mean scores were analyzed along two continuums: degree of permissiveness towards social drug use and adherence to popular stereotypes. Chi-square test for trend was used to assess whether trends over time were more pronounced than expected by chance. Between-group significance for each attitude subscore was determined using the Sidak corrected t-tests. Multiple regression analyses were run with permissive or stereotyped subscores as the dependent variable, and age, gender, drug abuse education and 12-step recovery program exposure inserted as predictor variables.
Results: In total, 335 participants completed the survey from 2015-2018 (35% - 40% response rate). Nearly a third of all participants were concurrently enrolled in the elective course and 68% were not. Across the study period, the percentage of students endorsing marijuana legalization significantly increased from 48% in 2015, 56% in 2017, and 68% in 2018 (p <0.05). In parallel, endorsement of teenage use of marijuana as ‘healthy experimentation’ increased from 1% in 2015 to 7% in 2018 (p <0.05). While males accounted for a significantly greater proportion of students endorsing social use of marijuana or alcohol from 2015-2017, the effect of gender on marijuana permissive attitudes was lost after 2017. When comparing the intervention group to the control group, no difference in marijuana permissiveness scores was seen between the two. However, at the end of the semester, students enrolled in the drug abuse course disapproved more significantly of negative stereotypes towards substance users than students not enrolled. Controlling for the effects of age and gender variables, a multiple regression analysis confirmed that only exposure to 12-step alcohol recovery programs significantly predicted more permissive attitudes toward marijuana use.
Conclusion: Pharmacy student attitudes towards marijuana legalization have become more approving over time, while at the same time social use of this substance has become more acceptable, particularly among female students. The data suggest that brief exposure to didactic content on drug abuse pharmacology was insufficient for inducing more restrictive attitudes towards marijuana, but was effective in reducing popular stereotyped attitudes held by students towards substance users. The enactment of the state law legalizing recreational marijuana in 2018 may have undoubtedly contributed to the survey results, showing a more broadly accepting attitude towards recreational marijuana use among professional pharmacy students.