How Do We Reduce ADHD Prescription Medication Abuse?

Over the last two decades, the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, has grown significantly. Prescription rates of stimulant drugs, used to treat ADHD, have also surged. With this increase in prescriptions comes the concern of prescription medication abuse, especially by adolescents.

A recent JAMA Network Open study indicated that as many as one in four students from middle school to high school reported misusing ADHD prescription drugs. The study goes on to suggest that “Adolescents who are prescribed stimulant therapy for ADHD should be educated and prepared that nearly a quarter (24%) will be approached to divert their stimulant medications by their peers before the completion of high school.” A statistic that rises to 54% during college. 

The study’s lead author, Sean McCabe, director of the Center for the Study of Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking and Health at the University of Michigan’s School of Nursing is quoted as saying, “The findings should be a major wake-up call.” While the medication is important for helping people with ADHD, McCabe said “it is important to balance the need for access to medications while reducing the risk for misuse.”

While the findings of the JAMA study are important for understanding stimulant prescription use and abuse in adolescents, it is seemingly the first national study of its kind and much more research is needed to broaden the scope and understand how to curb misuse.

With this in mind, we asked the Figure 1 community for their thoughts on this study’s findings and what it could mean for ADHD prescription drugs in the future.

Here is what more than 750 healthcare professionals had to say.

Should Prescriptions Have More Regulation?

Given that the JAMA study found a significant amount of ADHD prescription medication abuse among adolescents, we asked the Figure 1 community if they thought ADHD prescriptions should be more heavily regulated. The majority, at 56%, responded yes, there should be more ADHD prescription regulation, while 33% said no, and 11% remained unsure. 

Although the majority was in favor of heavier regulation, many of our surveyed HCPs were passionately in opposition. One physician assistant stated, “It is already difficult to get a prescription and ridiculously expensive to treat ADHD. Don’t make it worse by increasing this overregulation.” Another respondent said, “All regulations do is make it difficult to get for people who legitimately need it.” So, while many polled in favor of regulation, it still may not be the best route to narrow the gap of prescription medication abuse.

What About Education?

We asked our respondents if they thought more education around prescription drug abuse was needed in schools. Astoundingly, 92% of surveyed HCPs said yes, with only 4% responding no, and the remaining 4% being unsure. 

It is tough to say what the education needs to be and who the primary audience is, but the JAMA study suggests that adolescents who have ADHD prescriptions should be aware that their peers may approach them about it. 

ADHD prescription medication abuse is quite obviously concerning, and with diagnoses rising in recent years, the issue may become even more extreme. The Figure 1 community, in general, seems to share the opinion of Sean McCabe, in that it is important to support those struggling with ADHD, yet equally as important to find a way to reduce misuse of stimulant prescriptions.

Published May 15, 2023

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