Adderall Abuse Spikes in Young Adults

The use of Adderall without a prescription found to dramatically increase.

Adderall abuse is found to be most prevalent in 18 to 25-year-olds as emergency room visits related to the drug have risen dramatically, a recent study found.

The study, published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, evaluated Adderall usage trends between 2006 and 2011.

"The growing problem is among young adults," said study co-author Ramin Mojtabai, MD, MPH, PhD. "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."

The researchers looked at 3 different sets of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the Drug Abuse Warning Network, and the National Disease and Therapeutic Index.

The results of the study showed that adults prescribed Adderall remained unchanged, while the use of Adderall without a prescription increased 67%, and emergency room visits increased 156%.

For adolescents, prescribed use of Adderall went down, non-medical use was stable, and the emergency room visits decreased by 54%.

The researchers also found that individuals who used nonmedical Adderall obtained it from family or friends, two-thirds of whom had a prescription. Approximately 60% of people ages 18 to 25 used Adderall without a prescription.

"The number of prescriptions for Adderall has fallen and yet we are seeing more medical problems from its use,” said first study author Lian-Yu Chen, MD. “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."

In order to monitor Adderall, the drug should be treated the same way as prescription painkillers have in the recent years, the study concluded.

Researchers suggest that prescriptions should be entered into a database that a physician has the ability to check before writing out a prescription, in order to see if the patient is receiving medication from multiple medications.

"Many of these college students think stimulants like Adderall are harmless study aids," Mojtabai said. "But there can be serious health risks and they need to be more aware."