Widespread Misuse of ADHD Drugs Found Among U.S. School Students: Study

In some schools with high rates of ADHD drug prescriptions, up to a quarter of students are misusing the drugs, the study warns.

The findings of a new study suggest many teenagers are abusing attention deficient hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications, such as Adderall, Ritalin and Vyvanse, or using the drugs without a proper prescription.

In a report published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) on April 18, researchers indicate middle and high school students in the U.S. commonly take prescription ADHD medications for non-medical purposes.

Specifically, researchers found that schools with higher rates of students prescribed stimulants for ADHD were more likely to see those students use the drugs for non-medical purposes.

The study is the first to acknowledge the association between ADHD prescription stimulant medication use and the misuse of those drugs for non-medical purposes in schools.

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Researchers analyzed survey data from 2005 through 2020, involving 231,141 U.S. students from 3,284 public and private schools in 8th, 10th and 12th grade.

The data revealed an increased risk of ADHD drug abuse for students who attended schools with higher prescription ADHD stimulant use.

According to the findings, middle and high school students who attended schools with higher rates of students prescribed ADHD medications were 36% more likely to misuse the stimulants for non-medical purposes compared to students who attended schools with lower rates of students prescribed ADHD medication.

The data revealed that up to 25% of students in some middle and high schools reported misusing prescription ADHD drugs for non-medical reasons in the past year. Researchers found that schools in suburban areas with higher percentages of Caucasian students with parents of higher education levels were most at risk of ADHD drug abuse.

ADHD Medication Use On The Rise Among Teens

Amphetamines including Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, Concerta, Metadate, Dexedrine, and Focalin are stimulants commonly prescribed for the treatment of ADHD for those who need help concentrating, controlling impulsive and hyperactive behaviors, or both. The controlled medications stimulate the body’s central nervous system by increasing certain neurotransmitters, or chemicals in the brain, to help treat symptoms of the chronic disorder.

Over the last two decades, ADHD diagnoses have increased at a substantial rate and stimulant medications have also been increasingly prescribed to treat ADHD. Use of the stimulant medications have become so prevalent that researchers estimate one out of every nine 12th grade students will use stimulant therapy to treat ADHD throughout their lifetime.

ADHD Medication Abuse Side Effects

When used correctly, prescription stimulants have been shown to effectively treat symptoms of ADHD. However, misuse of the drugs for non-medical purposes has been linked to an increased risk of both short and long-term health effects including cardiovascular incidents, seizures, overdoses, depressed mood, psychosis, neuropsychological dysfunction, substance abuse disorder, and lower student graduation rates.

Mounting evidence suggests that teens who misuse ADHD stimulants for non-medical reasons most often obtain them from their peers.

Researchers indicate nearly a quarter of teens who have been prescribed the drugs will be approached by their peers to distribute their medication before they have completed high school and over half will be approached during their college years. Students are motivated to abuse the stimulants primarily to amplify their cognitive skills in an attempt to improve their academics.

Parents, guardians, and schools are encouraged to educate teens who have been prescribed medications for treatment of ADHD or other medical conditions on proper medication management and provide methods on how to handle peer-pressure if another student requests that they share their prescription medication.


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