Study Reveals Prescription Stimulant Abuse Habits

Prescription stimulants like Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta are key tools in treating the symptoms associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy. When taken as prescribed, the drugs help to organize thinking, regulate behavior and make distractions less disruptive. For those with the conditions mentioned, prescription stimulants provide a way to successfully manage everyday tasks.

When they are taken by young people (or anyone) without such health conditions, the drugs can wreak havoc with blood pressure, appetite, sleep and body temperature. A University of Florida study is the first ever to take a comprehensive and detailed look at how prescription stimulants are being abused by teens and preteens in the U.S.

Titled the National Monitoring of Adolescent Prescription Stimulants Study, researchers from the University of Florida gathered a wealth of data from adolescent populations around the nation to find out who was abusing drugs, why they were doing so and how they obtained the medications. Researchers targeted venues popular with teens and preteens such as skate parks, shopping centers, movie theatres and arcades, handing out surveys to more than 11,000 10- to 18-year-olds living within or around the metropolitan areas of Boston, Denver, Cincinnati, Houston, New York City, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Seattle and Tampa.

The questionnaires asked detailed questions such as: Why kids took the drugs? Were they curious? Was it because they wanted to get high? Or was it just because? The surveys asked participants to tell when they may have used prescription stimulants and how much of a problem they perceived stimulant abuse to be.

The surveys were administered over four separate time frames, with the first being given in 2008 and the last in 2011. It stands apart from prior research which has largely focused on high school and college misuse of prescription stimulants, most of which investigated how the drugs are used to enhance study and academic performance. Findings from the study are published in the September volume of Current Opinion in Psychiatry.

Here is what the University of Florida research found:

  • Two-thirds (63 percent) of teens answering the survey said they felt that misusing prescription stimulants is a significant problem among their peers
  • Fifteen percent of surveyed teens/preteens had taken prescription stimulants at some point
  • Twelve percent of them have either taken someone else’s stimulant medication or given their own medication to another person and the rate of medicine diversion was even larger (17 percent) among 16- to 18-year-olds living in more rural regions
  • Seven percent had taken prescription stimulants within the past month
  • Four percent had taken the drugs for non-medical
  • The greatest amount of abuse occurred among teens 16- to 18-years-old.

Researchers involved in the study suggest that the best way to combat abuse of prescription stimulants is to restrict access to the medications. They recommend greater physician caution in prescribing and more parental discussions about not sharing prescribed medicines with others.

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