(HealthDay News) — Misuse of prescription stimulant medications such as Ritalin and Adderall may begin at an earlier age than previously believed, according to research published in the July 1 issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Elizabeth Austic, PhD, of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, analyzed data from 240,160 people ages 12–21. She found the peak ages for using these medications were between 16–19. Each year, just under 1% of teens ages 16–19 start using stimulant medications not prescribed to them. Besides Ritalin, Adderall, and other attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications, these included prescription diet drugs and medicines that contain methamphetamine.

Prescription diet pills were the most popular stimulant drug misused by females, while Adderall was the drug misused most often by males, according to the study. Problems posed by misuse of the drugs included the risk of dependence, hallucinations, suicide, or sudden death.

Austic suggests efforts to prevent misuse of ADHD medications and other prescription stimulants should begin in middle school. “We need to have a realistic understanding of when young people are beginning to experiment with stimulants, so we can prevent them from misusing for the first time,” she said in a university news release.

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