Honolulu — Stimulant medications to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are popular pills on college campuses during finals week, according to surveys. Even people without an ADHD diagnosis seek the medications to improve concentration and focus during tests. But a new study suggests that, in general, stimulant medications are not as diverted or abused for non-medical purposes as are some other prescription drugs.
In a study presented Tuesday, researchers surveyed approximately 10,000 U.S. adults, ages 18 to 49. They found non-medical use of stimulants occurred less frequently than non-medical use of other substances. Almost one-quarter of those surveyed said they had used prescription painkillers for non-medical uses and more than 15% had used sedatives or tranquilizers for non-medical reasons. About 9% had used prescription sleep pills, compared with about 8% of people who used stimulant medications for non-medical reasons.
The study was performed by Inflexxion, a company that creates behavioral healthcare programs. It was presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Assn.
The vast majority of people who took stimulants for non-medical reasons got the drugs from family members or friends, said the lead author of the study, Theresa Cassidy, director of epidemiology for Inflexxion. Most people took the drugs orally, and a smaller number crushed and snorted the pills. The most common reasons for taking stimulants for non-medical uses were to improve performance and to stay awake. Only a small number of those surveyed said they took the drugs for weight loss, to get high or out of curiosity.
“Certainly, what we’re seeing is that these medications can be diverted for non-medical uses,” Cassidy said. “But it’s a limited use.”
Anyone who uses a prescription drug written for someone else is taking a risk, she said.
“Sharing medications is not OK,” Cassidy said. “There are consequences that can occur when sharing a stimulant medication.”