Adderall: The Troubling Trends

Adderall misuse, emergency room visits on the rise in young adults

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

(RxWiki News) More young adults are experimenting with the prescription drug Adderall, which is commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), than ever before. And that could be a big problem.

In a new study, researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that — while the number of Adderall prescriptions among young adults has not changed — misuse and ER visits among this group have shot up dramatically in recent years.

"The growing problem is among young adults," said study co-author Ramin Mojtabai, MD, PhD, in a press release. Dr. Mojtabai is a professor of mental health at the Bloomberg School.

He continued, "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.”

Although Adderall (the brand name for dextroamphetamine-amphetamine) does improve focus, it can also cause sleep disturbances and cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure and stroke. Adderall can also increase the risk for depression, bipolar disorder and aggressive behavior. Little is known about the drug’s long-term effects.

For this study, Dr. Mojtabai and team used data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the Drug Abuse Warning Network and the National Disease and Therapeutic Index.

They found that, between 2006 and 2011, adult treatment visits involving Adderall stayed the same while cases of adults taking the drug without a prescription rose 67 percent. Adderall-related ER visits rose 156 percent.

During that same time period, however, teen treatment visits involving Adderall went down and cases of non-medical use remained stable. Teen ER visits declined by 54 percent. Meanwhile, trends for methylphenidate (brand names Ritalin and others) remained the same.

Dr. Mojtabai and team also found that most people who used Adderall without a prescription obtained it from family members or friends — two-thirds of whom were prescribed the drug. Of all non-medical Adderall users, more than half were between ages 18 and 25.

Dr. Mojtabai said that drugs like Adderall should be monitored much like prescription painkillers already are. Adderall prescriptions should also be entered into a database so that doctors can make sure patients aren’t receiving multiple prescriptions, Dr. Mojtabai said.

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

This study was published Feb. 16 in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

It was funded in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Dr. Alexander served as Chair of the FDA’s Peripheral and Central Nervous System Advisory Committee and is a paid consultant to IMS Health. Dr. Mojtabai received consulting fees and research grants from Bristol-Myers Squibb and Lundbeck.

Review Date: 
February 16, 2016
Last Updated:
February 16, 2016