Five million Americans take stimulant medication as a treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In people with ADHD, these medications have a calming effect. In other people, they provide a potentially addictive jolt of focus and purpose.
Abuse of these easy-to-get drugs is increasing dramatically, especially among young adults.
Emergency Room Visits
Emergency room visits due to stimulant abuse more than doubled between 2005 and 2010. Visits involving young adults quadrupled. Half of these visits were the result of someone using a stimulant drug without a prescription, and 63 percent of the visits involved combination of stimulants with anti-anxiety and sleep medications, painkillers or alcohol.
An overdose of stimulants presents with many of the same symptoms as an overdose of cocaine, including a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, agitation and anxiety.
Between 2007 and 2011, stimulant prescriptions to young adults for ADHD more than doubled. When prescribed correctly, these medications are very successful at countering the impulsivity and distractibility that characterize classic ADHD. This condition is usually diagnosed early, at around age seven. It would be rare for true ADHD to suddenly appear in high school or college.
Prescription stimulants include amphetamines like Adderall and Vyvanse, and methylphenidates like Ritalin and Foclin.
High school and college students often abuse readily available stimulants as “study drugs.” Stimulants allow them to stay up all night to study for a test or complete a paper. They provide added focus when taking lengthy college entry or professional school entry tests. As many as one-third of high school and college students (often competitive, high performers) take stimulants to enhance school performance.
Young adults also abuse stimulants for weight loss, since the drugs decrease appetite. In addition, they use stimulants for partying, often snorting the powder in the capsules for a quicker high. Those who combine stimulants with alcohol have been shown to drink 83 percent more.
Prescriptions for stimulants are easy to obtain, often on the basis of a simple questionnaire rather than a detailed physical exam. They are readily and casually shared among students.
Addiction to Stimulants
A 2006 study claims that about 10 percent of adolescents and young adults who misuse ADHD drugs become addicted to them. When taken in doses and routes (snorting on injecting) other than those prescribed by a doctor, stimulants can induce a rapid increase in pleasurable dopamine in the brain. If they are used chronically, withdrawal symptoms can emerge when the drugs are discontinued.
Sharing Prescription Drugs is a Crime
Few students realize that giving or accepting even one Adderall pill from a friend who has a prescription is a federal crime and can be prosecuted as a felony. Because of their highly addictive properties, stimulants are classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as Schedule II drugs, just like cocaine.
A Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding abuse of prescription stimulants is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a criminal or medical malpractice lawyer.