ADHD Medication Use in Schools Linked to Higher Rates of Prescription Stimulant Misuse, Study Finds
A recent study has found that schools with higher rates of students using prescribed ADHD medications have a greater likelihood of students misusing prescription stimulants. The study, published in the JAMA Network Open, analyzed survey data from over 231,000 students in eighth, 10th, and 12th grades across more than 3,200 public and private schools in the U.S. from 2005 to 2020. The researchers found that non-medical use of prescription stimulants ranged from 0% to over 25% across U.S. secondary schools. Kids who attended schools with a high rate of 12% or more of students on ADHD medication were 36% more likely to say they had misused stimulants, compared to kids at schools where no students used the medication for ADHD.
Stimulant therapy is a common treatment for ADHD, but it can also be harmful if used without prescription or guidance from clinicians. Prolonged stimulant misuse can lead to several detrimental health effects, including cardiovascular conditions, depressed mood, overdoses, psychosis, anxiety, seizures, and stimulant use disorder.
Sean Esteban McCabe, Ph.D., the study’s lead author, said, “The key takeaway here is not that we need to lessen prescribing of stimulants for students who need them, but that we need better ways to store, monitor, and screen for stimulant access and use among youth to prevent misuse. There’s variation in stimulant misuse across different schools, so it’s important to assess schools and implement personalized interventions that work best for each school. It’s also critical to treat and educate teens on prescription stimulants as the medications they are intended to be and limit their availability as drugs of misuse.”
Parents and guardians should always store controlled medications in a lockbox and should not be afraid to count pills and stay on top of early refills, he added.
NIDA Director Nora Volkow, M.D., said, “The drug supply has rapidly changed, and what looks like medications – bought online or shared among friends or family members – can contain fentanyl or other potent illicit substances that can result in overdoses. It’s important to raise awareness of these new risks for teens. It’s also essential to provide the necessary resources and education to prevent misuse and support teens during this critical period in their lives when they encounter unique experiences and new stressors.”
It is crucial to understand the prevalence of stimulant therapy for ADHD and prescription stimulant misuse in U.S. middle and high schools. The study’s findings show that while stimulant therapy can help millions of people, including students, friends, and colleagues, it is necessary to balance the need for access to these medications while reducing the risk for misuse. Due to recent upsurges in the prescription of stimulant therapy for ADHD, this is now more crucial than ever. Schools should assess their stimulant misuse rates and implement personalized interventions to prevent misuse, while parents and guardians should secure controlled medications and monitor pill counts.
0. “Up to 1 in 4 students misuse ADHD drugs, study finds” AOL, 18 Apr. 2023, https://www.aol.com/news/1-4-students-misuse-adhd-170426855.html
1. “In Some U.S. Schools, 1 in 4 Kids Said They've Misused an ADHD Drug” The Derby Informer, 19 Apr. 2023, https://www.derbyinformer.com/lifestyles/health/in-some-u-s-schools-1-in-4-kids-said-theyve-misused-an-adhd-drug/article_da53e6b0-a102-5ca4-bf03-942c9e3aed56.html
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