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Students pop pills to prevent pregnancy and pimples

by Archives March 2, 2005

VANCOUVER (CUP) — The most-prescribed drugs to students at campuses across Canada are overwhelmingly contraceptives, anti-depressants, acne medication and herpes medication.

Topping the lists of drugs prescribed most at McGill University, the University of Saskatchewan and the University of British Columbia are brands like Tri-Cyclen, Marvelon and Alesse, while anti-asthma medications and amoxicillin didn’t make the top 10 in many universities.

“It’s really interesting that oral contraceptives and antidepressants outrank antibiotics,” the class of drugs more traditionally linked to “medicine,” said Kristin Foster of studentcare.net/works, which runs student health plans for 330,000 students at 33 schools in Canada.

“And it’s typical of students across the country,” she said.

At the U of S, the top eight drugs by number prescribed were oral contraceptives. In ninth place was Effexor, an antidepressant, and in tenth place was Nu-Amoxi, an antibiotic.

At UBC, oral contraceptives were ranked first to third, fifth to seventh and ninth. In fourth place was Tylenol with codeine, and in eighth and tenth places were drugs typically used to fight acne.

At McGill, the contraceptives appeared in spots one to four, six, seven and nine. Diane, an anti-acne medication, was in the fifth spot, while different prescriptions of Effexor occupied spots eight and ten.

Each list was compiled by studentcare.net/works using data from September 2003 to August 2004.

“Let’s face it — we’re university students. We’re at that age. None of this surprises me,” said Kevin Keystone, the newly elected finance vice-president for UBC’s student union.

The results were similar when examined by their costs: university students spend the most money on birth control. But creeping into the mix at sixth place at UBC and twelfth place at McGill by cost was Valtrex, a herpes medication.

Anthony Di Carlo, a student exec at McGill who oversees the drug plan there, said he thought the Valtrex numbers would be switched. “If the opposite was true, I’d say it was because of the weather,” he said.

The results may be a telling indicator of what university students spend their time doing. Because the plan doesn’t follow students throughout their lives, it’s always a snapshot of a group of people with an average age of 22.5.

“It’s hard to make inferences,” cautioned Foster. “We’d like to look at this and say oral contraceptives are up there because students are having more sex.

“But a lot of reasons for prescribing oral contraceptives are because of acne. A lot of them are doing it for skin care.”

Ten years ago, the lists would have been almost exclusively contraceptives, she said. But recently, antidepressants have begun to climb the ladder. It’s less an indication that students are more depressed, and more that the medical community is less hesitant prescribing them.

Both oral contraceptives are long-term repeat prescriptions, while antibiotics are often avoided by students who tough it out. “There are students who should be using antibiotics, but aren’t,” Foster said.

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