The stimulant Adderall, widely prescribed for attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), is the drug of choice misused by students and young professionals who believe they need it to focus while studying all night for an exam or to help them learn faster. New research finds misuse of the drug has been growing, and comes with many risks.
A study released Tuesday from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shows that incidences of misuse and emergency room visits related to Adderall increased dramatically for young adults between 2006 and 2011.
Past research has suggested that the use of stimulants such as Adderall can cause insomnia and heart problems in kids. Side effects in adults include things as minor as stomach aches and headaches to more serious issues including seizures and high blood pressure.
For the latest study, Lian-Yu Chen, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues looked at trends in prescriptions, misuse and emergency room visits involving Adderall (dextroamphetamine-amphetamine) and Ritalin (methylphenidate) in adults and adolescents from 2006 to 2011. They examined three sets of data: National Disease and Therapeutic Index, a survey of office-based practices; National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a population survey of substance use; and Drug Abuse Warning Network, a survey of hospital emergency department visits.
Data showed that over the six-year study period, treatment visits involving Adderall for adults between the ages of 18 and 25 did not change, but non-medical use of the drug increased by 67 percent and emergency room visits skyrocketed by 156 percent. Over that same period, treatment visits for adolescents declined, nonmedical use of the drug in teens remained unchanged and their emergency room visits declined by 54 percent.
The trends for Ritalin did not change during this period.
The study, published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, found that the most common way of getting non-prescribed Adderall was from family and friends, two-thirds of whom obtained the drug by prescription.
"While the mainstream media tend to attribute the increasing abusing rates of these prescription stimulants to physicians' over-prescribing, our data do not support this notion," Chen told CBS News in an email. "In adults, the abusing rates and ED visits increased significantly, but the prescriptions did not."
The researchers only looked at data through 2011, but there is reason to believe that the misuse of Adderall continues to rise.
Dr. Lawrence Diller, a behavioral pediatrician who was not involved in the study, but has been worried about these trends for two decades, said that the only data to go on since 2011 is the continued increase of the production of legal stimulants. "These production quotas continue to grow and grow," Diller told CBS News. "One hundred ninety four tons of legal stimulants were produced in this country in 2013. That's enough to mold into 27 round, blue 20-mg Adderall pills for every man, woman and child in America."
Study co-author Ramin Mojtabai, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., a professor of mental health at the Bloomberg School, said that drugs like Adderall should be monitored as is done with prescription drug monitoring programs to reduce the abuse of prescription painkillers.
Mojtabai also said that young adults should be informed about the potential health problems and side effects associated with misusing Adderall. "Many of these college students think stimulants like Adderall are harmless study aids," he said in a press release. "But there can be serious health risks and they need to be more aware."