Study: Adderall Misuse Growing Among Young Adults, Not Adolescents

Non-medical use of Adderall in adults rose by 67% between the years 2006 to 2011, while emergency room visits related to Adderall use during the same period, went up 156%.

Non-medical use of Adderall in adults rose by 67% between 2006–2011, while emergency room visits related to Adderall use during the same period went up 156%. These findings are presented in a new study by John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

The study evaluated three separate sets of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a population survey of substance use; the Drug Abuse Warning Network, a survey of emergency department visits; and the National Disease and Therapeutic Index, a survey of office-based practices including prescribing.

Researchers found that the largest demographic taking Adderall inappropriately (i.e. without a prescription) was primarily 18 to 25 year-olds. The increased rate of emergency room visits runs parallel to an actual fall in prescription rates, which indicates that the main driver of misuse and emergency room visits is diversion—people taking medication that was legitimately prescribed to someone else. The study speculates those inappropriately using the medication are accessing it through friends and family, of which two-thirds obtained it via prescription.

The findings are contrary to popular evidence which had suggested the most severe misuse of Adderall was among older children and adolescents. In reality, treatment visits among adolescents deceased, while non-medical use was stable and emergency room visits declined by 54%. The study found that 60% of all Adderall use — from ages 12 and up — was among 18 to 25 year-olds.

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“In college, especially, these drugs are used as study-aid medication to help students stay up all night and cram,” said Ramin Mojtabai, MD, MPH, PhD, co-author of the study. “Our sense is that a sizable proportion of those who use them believe these medications make them smarter and more capable of studying. We need to educate this group that there could be serious adverse effects from taking these drugs and we don’t know much at all about their long-term health effects.”

The authors have called for better monitoring of Adderall prescriptions similar to the way opioids have increasingly monitored in recent years. They also recommend informational campaigns to better explain the adverse effects of Adderall to young adults, among which is high blood pressure and risk of stroke. The need for greater public awareness is underscored by a lack of any research on the long-term effects of Adderall.

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