In some middle and high schools in the United States, 1 in 4 teens report abusing prescription stimulants for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the past year, according to a new study.
“This is the first national study to examine the nonmedical use of prescription stimulants by middle and high school students, and we found a wide range of abuse,” said lead author Sean Esteban. McCabe, director of the Center for the Study. of Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking, and Health at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
“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,” said McCabe, who is also a school teacher. nurses at the University of Michigan School of Nursing. “This study is a major red flag.”
Non-medical uses of stimulants may include taking more than a normal dose to get high, or taking the drug with alcohol or other drugs to stimulate a high, previous studies have found.
Students are also abusing drugs or “using a pill someone gave them due to feelings of stress around academics – they try to stay up late and study or finish their assignments,” said the pediatrician Dr. Deepa Camenga, Associate Director of Pediatric Programs at the Yale Program in Addiction Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut.
“We know this happens in colleges. One of the key takeaways from the new study is that the abuse and sharing of prescription stimulant drugs happens in middle and high schools, not just in university,” said Camenga, who did not participate in the study. the study.
Published Tuesday in the journal JAMA Network Open, the study analyzed data collected between 2005 and 2020 by Monitoring the Future, a federal survey that measured drug and alcohol use among high school students nationwide. every year since 1975.
In the dataset used for this study, questionnaires were distributed to more than 230,000 adolescents in eighth, 10th and 12th grades in a nationally representative sample of 3,284 secondary schools.
The schools with the highest rates of teens using prescribed medications for ADHD were about 36% more likely to have students abusing prescription stimulants in the past year, according to the study. Schools with few or no students currently using such treatments had far fewer problems, but that hasn’t gone away, McCabe said.
“We know that the two main sources are leftover medicine, perhaps from family members such as siblings, and asking peers, who may be attending other schools,” he said. declared.
According to the study, suburban schools in all regions of the United States except the Northeast had higher rates of ADHD medication abuse among adolescents, as did schools where typically one or more parents had a university degree.
Schools with more white students and those with average levels of binge drinking among students were also more likely to see teenagers abusing stimulants.
On an individual level, college students who reported using marijuana in the past 30 days were four times more likely to abuse ADHD medications than teens who did not use weed, according to the analysis.
Additionally, teens who reported using ADHD medications currently or in the past were about 2.5% more likely to have abused stimulants compared to teens. peers who had never used stimulants, according to the study.
“But these findings weren’t driven solely by teens with ADHD abusing their medications,” McCabe said. “We always found a significant association, even when we excluded students who had never received treatment for ADHD.”
Data collection for the study ran through 2020. Since then, new statistics show that stimulant prescriptions jumped 10% in 2021 across most age groups. At the same time, there has been a nationwide shortage of Adderall, one of the most popular ADHD drugs, leaving many patients unable to fill or refill their prescriptions.
The stakes are high: Inappropriate use of stimulant medications over time can lead to stimulant use disorder, which can lead to anxiety, depression, psychosis and seizures, experts say.
In case of overuse or combination with alcohol or other drugs, there may be sudden health consequences. Side effects can include “paranoia, dangerously high body temperatures, and irregular heartbeat, especially if stimulants are taken in high doses or otherwise than by swallowing a pill,” according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Research has also shown that people who abuse ADHD medications are very likely to have multiple substance use disorders.
The abuse of stimulants has increased over the past two decades, experts say, as more teenagers are diagnosed and prescribed these drugs – studies have showed that 1 in 9 high school students report taking stimulant treatment for ADHD, McCabe said.
For children with ADHD who use their medications appropriately, stimulants can be an effective treatment. They are “protective for a child’s health”, Camenga said. “Those teenagers diagnosed and treated correctly and monitored do very well – they have a lower risk of new mental health problems or new substance use disorders.”
The solution to the problem of stimulant abuse among middle and high school teens is not to limit the use of the drugs to children who really need them, McCabe pointed out.
“Instead, we need to look very long and hard at school strategies that are more or less effective in curbing stimulant drug abuse,” he said. “Parents can ensure that the schools their children attend have safe storage for medicines and strict dispensing policies. And find out about the prevalence of abuse – this data is available for each school.
Families can also help by talking to their children about how to handle peers who approach them wanting a pill or two to party or set up an all-night study session, he added.
“You’d be surprised how many kids don’t know what to say,” McCabe said. “Parents can play a role with their children to give them options on what to say so they are prepared when it happens.”
Parents and guardians should always store controlled medications in a safe, and should not be afraid to count pills and keep track of first refills, he added.
“Finally, if parents suspect any type of abuse, they should contact their child’s prescriber immediately,” McCabe said. “This child should be screened and evaluated immediately.”