While the number of prescriptions for the stimulant Adderall has remained unchanged among young adults, misuse and emergency room visits related to the drug have risen dramatically in this group, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests.
Anecdotal evidence had suggested the most severe problem of Adderall misuse was among older children and adolescents, but the new research – published February 16 in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry – finds otherwise. The study examined trends from 2006 through 2011 and found that it is mainly 18-to-25-year-olds who are inappropriately taking Adderall without a prescription, primarily getting the medication from family and friends and without a physician recommendation or prescription.
“The growing problem is among young adults,” says study co-author Dr. Ramin Mojtabai, a professor of mental health at the Bloomberg School. “In college, especially, these drugs are used as study-aid medication to help students stay up all night and cram. Our sense is that a sizeable 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.”
Says first author Dr. Lian-Yu Chen, who received her PhD in 2014 from the Bloomberg School: “The number of prescriptions for Adderall has fallen and yet we are seeing more medical problems from its use. This suggests that the main driver of misuse and emergency room visits related to the drug is the result of diversion, people taking medication that is legitimately prescribed to someone else. Physicians need to be much more aware of what is happening and take steps to prevent it from continuing.”