Stimulant Abuse on the Rise in the Workforce

By Zachary Siegel 04/28/15

More workers are using ADHD drugs to get the job done. But at what cost?

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A New York Times report exposed a large portion of the American workforce who abuse ADHD stimulant medication, “not to get high, but hired.” An up close and personal look revealed relentless demands from high stress jobs are being met by the abuse of various forms of amphetamine, the active ingredient found in medications such as Adderall.

In 2012, roughly 2.6 million American adults received ADHD medication, which marked a 53% increase in only four years. But according to the Times report, “Reliable data to quantify how many American workers misuse stimulants does not exist," several experts said.

Another study from 2013 by SAMHSA found emergency room visits related to non-medical use of stimulants among adults spiked to 23,000, tripling the figure from 2005 to 2011. The same report revealed that from 2010 to 2012, there was a 15% increase in people entering treatment who cited prescription stimulants as their drug of choice.

Users who were interviewed for the report said it was easy to feign symptoms of ADHD, lack of attention and impulsivity being the core symptoms, to doctors who would then write up the prescription. Others reported buying large quantities of prescription stimulants from drug dealers.

One woman in New York called up a dealer to deliver to her apartment and 30 minutes later, “She handed him a wad of twenties and fifties, received a tattered envelope of pills, and returned to her computer.”

“OK, now I can work,” she said. And she put together a Powerpoint until 7am, slept for 90 minutes, and arrived to her office at 9 o'clock.

When abused, prescription stimulants can take a serious toll on the body. Cardiovascular problems like disrupted heartbeats and increased blood pressure are common. Loss of appetite and excessive weight loss are also salient in Adderall users. At higher doses, ADHD drugs can cause paranoid hallucinations from “amphetamine-induced psychosis."

“Given the increase in rates of abuse in college students over the last decade, it is essential that we understand the outcomes as they leave college and assume adult roles,” said deputy director of NIDA, Dr. Wilson Compton.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.