Study: Adderall abuse skyrockets among young adults

Researchers found nonmedical use and emergency room visits have increased significantly while treatment visits for prescriptions have remained either stable or decreased during the last decade.
By Stephen Feller   |   Feb. 17, 2016 at 12:45 PM
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BALTIMORE, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- While prescriptions for Adderall to treat children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, have stayed relatively flat, researchers found the number of people abusing the drugs or seeking treatment at emergency rooms has increased significantly in recent years.

A recent study at Johns Hopkins University found Adderall is increasingly being used as a study aid and for other nonmedical uses at because people think the drug does not pose health risks.

Adderall is a stimulant containing salts from amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, and is one of a group of similar drugs used to treat people with ADHD, as well as narcolepsy. The drug also includes increased risk for sleep disruption and increased risk for depression, bipolar disorder, aggressive or hostile behavior, and high blood pressure and stroke.

The researchers found young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 are obtaining the drug from family or friends and using it at much greater rates as study aids or for other purposes without considering its health risks.

"Many of these college students think stimulants like Adderall are harmless study aids," Ramin Mojtabai, a professor of mental health at Johns Hopkins, said in a press release. "But there can be serious health risks and they need to be more aware."

For the study, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, researchers analyzed survey data collected between 2006 and 2011 as part of the National Disease and Therapeutic Index, National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and the Drug Abuse Warning Network.

The data showed the number of treatment visits for adolescents under age 18 for dextroamphetamine-amphetamine and methylphenidate, both marketed under other names for ADHD and other conditions, has decreased over time. Among the group, nonmedical use of dextroamphetamine-amphetamine stayed stable, nonmedical use of methylphenidate dropped by more than half, and ER visits remained about the same.

In adults between the ages of 18 and 25, however, nonmedical use of dextroamphetamine-amphetamine increased by 67.1 percent and ER visits went up by 155.9 percent. Treatment visits for the drug, however, remained about the same.

Among both age groups, the source for Adderall for nonmedical use was family and friends, two-thirds of which had legitimate prescriptions from a doctor.

While researchers note in the study that prescription trends for stimulants do not always match trends for nonmedical use or hospital visits, they said future studies should focus on risk factors and motivations for people using the drugs, as well as for why people given the prescriptions by doctors distribute them to other people.

"[The study] suggests that the main driver of misuse and emergency room visits related to the drug is the result of diversion -- people taking medication that is legitimately prescribed to someone else," said Dr. Lian-Yu Chen, a former student at Johns Hopkins and now a researcher at National Taiwan University Hospital. "Physicians need to be much more aware of what is happening and take steps to prevent it from continuing."

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