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Millions Have Misused ADHD Drugs

By Jeannine Virtue

A study released this week estimates that more than 7 million Americans have misused Adderall, Ritalin and other stimulant medications used to treat ADHD, and that 75,000 showed signs of addiction to stimulant medications.

This recent study, published in the online journal "Drug and Alcohol Dependence, culled data from a 2002 national survey of about 67,000 households. Research found that men and women were equally likely to abuse ADHD medications but that women seemed to be at a greater risk for dependency. Men, on the other hand, seemed to be at a greater risk of abuse.

A surprising aspect of this study was in revealing who is most likely to misuse stimulant drugs. Most often, college students abuse Adderall and Ritalin in an attempt to boost their academic performance. A previous study showed that stimulant drugs are most commonly abused in highly competitive colleges, with B-average and below college students twice as likely to illegally use prescription drugs.

College student increasingly recognize that Adderall and Ritalin are much more effective than coffee or caffeine pills at helping them sit down, focus, get their work done - through the night if necessary - and still not interfere with their social lives. The drug use becomes a significant problem when college students start to abuse Adderall and other amphetamine drugs, becoming addicted to them or experiencing toxic effects.

With approximately 1.5 million adults and 2.5 million children currently receiving prescriptions for ADHD medications, finding a friend or a friend of a friend willing to sell off their drugs is not very difficult for many people. Most students reported getting Adderall, the stimulant of choice due to its long lasting effects, from those that were diagnosed with ADHD. One Adderall pill can fetch $5, which makes selling off prescription meds a lucrative deal for those with access to the drugs.

Colleges and universities are also reporting a sharp increase in the amount of students making appointments at campus medical centers to obtain their own ADD diagnosis. Not until recently have studies examined the abuse of prescription drugs. One study revealed that those who use prescription stimulants are more likely to engage in binge drinking, drunk driving, and using illegal drugs as well.

Another study indicated that those from wealthier backgrounds were more likely to abuse both legal and illegal drugs. In light of these past studies and the new study showing the high rate of abuse and addiction, some experts believe that the real focus of ADHD medication dangers should center on the abuse of Adderall and other ADHD drugs - not the side effects.

Researchers point out that 75,000 people addicted to stimulants is more worrisome than the 100-200 adults who have had strokes as a result of using stimulant ADHD drugs. Earlier this month, the FDA advisory panel recommended that the FDA put Black Box warnings on all ADHD medications. This black box warning - the most severe of all FDA warnings - would state that stimulant ADHD drugs can cause cardiovascular events and even death, especially if there's a preexisting heart condition.

The FDA panel expressed a hope of curtailing what is seen as out-of-control over-prescribing of potentially dangerous drugs. Prescriptions for ADHD drugs have doubled over the past five years. The hope is that the black box warning will remind parents that just because a drug is legal does not mean it is safe. Ritalin, Adderall and Concerta are "Class B drugs and are in the same drug class as cocaine. These drugs have potential for abuse, addiction and physical and mental harm - just as other drugs in this elevated classification do.

About The Author

Jeannine Virtue is a freelance writer who focuses on health related issues.


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