Taking Someone Else’s Medication Is Most Common Form of Stimulant Abuse by Teens

By May Wilkerson 03/07/16

A new study has revealed that teens who only used stimulants non-medically reported higher rates of using other substances.

Taking Someone Else’s Medication Most Common Form of Stimulant Abuse by Teens
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Abuse of prescription stimulants like Adderall is on the rise among young people. And the most common category of abuse involves teens using drugs that were prescribed to someone else, according to a new study from the University of Florida. The study found that 88% of teens who had taken these drugs for non-medical purposes in the past month had obtained them from someone else, like a friend, peer or family member.

"In the last 10 years a number of new stimulant medications have been approved for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, treatment, and the expansion of this market, coupled with the increasing rates of ADHD diagnosis, provides greater availability of these drugs," said lead author Yanning Wang, MS, a statistical research coordinator in the UF College of Medicine. "This raises concerns about the possible non-medical use or abuse of these medications."

Stimulants, like Adderall and Ritalin, are typically prescribed to treat conditions like ADHD or narcolepsy. Though relatively safe when taken as prescribed, stimulants may increase blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature, and decrease sleep and appetite when misused or used without a prescription, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. And when taken in high doses, they can lead to cardiovascular problems.

Wang looked at data from the National Monitoring of Adolescent Prescription Stimulants Study, which surveyed more than 11,000 teens and pre-teens, ages 10 to 18, living in and around 10 U.S. cities. The data was collected between 2008 and 2011.

About 7% of those surveyed (or 750 people) said they had used a prescription stimulant in the past month. Among this group, more than half (54%) reported non-medical use, including taking more pills than prescribed by a doctor, taking someone else's medication, or smoking, snorting or sniffing the medication. The most frequently reported form of misuse was using someone else's medication (88%). Taking more medication than prescribed was the second most common form of abuse (39%).

"It is so important for physicians and parents to counsel youth who have prescription stimulants to never share their medications," said study co-author Linda B. Cottler, PhD, MPH, chair of the department of epidemiology at UF.

Researchers also noticed a “circle of risk taking” phenomenon among the teens surveyed, suggesting their drug use is heavily influenced by peers. Teens who only used stimulants not as prescribed by a doctor were more likely to have close friends who had tried drugs. They also showed more behavioral problems at home and school, and higher rates of using other substances like tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs. 

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.