According to a government-funded study, one in four American teenagers in some schools are abusing prescription stimulants such as Adderall.
The research revealed what experts described as a “contagion effect” – where the risk of illegal use was higher in places where many students had legal prescriptions. The children most likely to abuse drugs were in the northeastern region of the United States, are white, and have highly educated parents.
There were wide variations across the country. While up to a quarter of children in some schools abused “study drugs”, more than 100 schools reported no abuse of the drug.
Adderall use has skyrocketed during the pandemic after many drug prescription regulations were lifted and online telehealth companies such as Cerebral and Done rose to prominence, allowing easy access to this one.
One of the study’s lead researchers said it was “a major red flag” for Adderall abuse in the United States.
Schools with the highest proportion of students (12% or more) reporting prescription stimulant treatment for ADHD were most likely to have the highest percentages of students reporting stimulant abuse (8%).
Adderall prescriptions have increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. In February 2020, just before the virus broke out across America, the drug accounted for 1.1% of prescription drugs. By September 2022, that figure had more than doubled to 2.31% of all scripts written.
“In some schools there was little or no stimulant abuse, while in other schools more than 25% of students had used stimulants in a non-medical way,” Dr. Sean McCabe told CNN, lead author of the University of Michigan study.
The drug is intended to treat ADHD, but is often abused as a party drug or study drug for its ability to make users more focused and alert.
A report last month found that one in 10 teenagers in the United States had been prescribed the drug – those numbers not counting those who misuse it without a doctor’s approval.
Stimulants are increasingly used to treat ADHD, but they rank among the most misused prescription medications in teens.
Many children receive drugs from their peers, who often have prescriptions themselves but take advantage of them to abuse them.
The National Institute for Health (NIH) partnered with the University of Michigan for the research, published Tuesday in JAMA Network Open, and used data between 2005 and 2020.
A total of 231,141 middle and high school students from 3,284 schools were included in the study.
The students were included in the Monitoring the Future survey, which anonymously collects data on the behavior and attitude of American teenagers.
They would self-report if they had used Adderall for a “non-medical” reason in the past year – which would be considered abuse.
Because the data is self-reported, it is not as reliable as some children may be reluctant to admit they use drugs, even anonymously.
Research has found a ripple effect with students in schools where ADHD are 36% more likely to abuse drugs – whether or not they have a prescription themselves.
Michigan researchers said the study finds a “significant” link between legitimate and illicit drug use for ADHD.
Dr Sean McCabe, professor of nursing at Michigan and lead researcher of the study, said: ‘I can tell you that a student’s experience will be different in a school without stimulant-abusing peers compared to a school where one in four peers abuse stimulants. ‘
Stimulant therapy is a common treatment for ADHD.
Its popularity has increased significantly in recent years. A recent study found that Adderall – the most popular ADHD drug – now accounts for 2.3% of US prescriptions, up from 1.1% at the start of the pandemic.
However, these drugs can be harmful if used without a prescription or if the advice of doctors is neglected.
Constant abuse of stimulants can lead to serious health effects, such as cardiovascular problems, depressed mood, overdoses, psychosis, anxiety, seizures, and stimulant use disorders.
Mr McCabe said: “The key takeaway here is not that we need to reduce the prescription of stimulants for students who need them, but that we need better ways to store, monitor and screen the access and use of stimulants among young people to prevent abuse.’
The relaxation of online prescribing rules during the pandemic has also made ADHD medications accessible with just a few clicks.
Before the pandemic, patients seeking a prescription had to see a doctor in person before being allowed to receive the drug.
But a pandemic rule aimed at keeping people away from healthcare facilities and maintaining access to prescriptions has allowed people to receive a prescription after a simple virtual visit.
Additionally, online telehealth platforms offering easy access to Adderall have started to grow and gain massive publicity on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram.
The charts above show that in all years, the percentages of males and females enrolled with one or more prescription stimulants were highest among those aged 5-19 and 15-24. , respectively.
The rate of women in their 20s filling prescriptions for ADHD drugs such as Adderall has increased by almost 20% from 2020 to 2021. This rate among adult men aged 30 to 39 has jumped by almost 15% during this period.
Prescriptions for Adderall have skyrocketed over the past three years, and growing demand combined with supply issues for manufacturers have resulted in a shortage.
ADHD is one of the most common disorders affecting neurological development in children.
It is usually diagnosed in childhood, but recent years have seen an increase in adult diagnoses.
Neuroscientists have not pinpointed the cause of ADHD, although genetics are thought to play a major role.
The main symptoms of ADHD, which usually appear before the age of 12, include inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behavior.
People with ADHD may be constantly agitated, unable to concentrate on a given task, talk excessively, interrupt others, and be easily distracted, among other symptoms.
Stimulants are the most commonly used drugs for ADHD because they increase levels of dopamine, a neurochemical key to focus and sustained focus by slowing the amount of it that is reabsorbed into the neuron that produced it. in the first place.
By slowing the reuptake of dopamine, the neurotransmitter has more time to travel from neuron to neuron, relaying information and eventually binding to a receptor, helping messages in the brain to be transmitted and received more efficiently. .
This improves communication in the parts of the brain that produce dopamine and norepinephrine, a chemical that helps you stay awake, pay attention, and think clearly.
ADHD medications are on the whole very effective, and in many cases, they are crucial for a person’s academic and social success and development.
Between 70 and 80 percent of patients taking ADHD medication have fewer or milder symptoms.