Five million American adults misusing prescription stimulants

Science Spotlight

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Scientists at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have completed the first comprehensive analysis of the prevalence of prescription stimulant use, misuse, use disorders, and motivations for misuse in the U.S. adult population. Looking at annual averages, approximately 6.6% (or 16 million) of U.S. adults used prescription stimulants in the preceding year; 4.5% (or 11 million) used prescription stimulants appropriately (without misuse); 2.1% (or 5 million) misused prescription stimulants at least once; and 0.2% (or 0.4 million) had prescription stimulant use disorders. The article analyzed data from the 2015 and 2016 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA).

The authors found that prescription stimulant use without misuse, misuse without use disorders, and use disorders were all higher among adults with major depressive episodes, suicidal ideation, and substance use problems. More than half (56.3%) cited cognitive enhancement as the reason for misusing prescription stimulants. Although purportedly used to increase alertness and concentration, research has shown that cognitive improvement from prescription stimulants is minimal and often inconsistent. The scientists point out that actions should be taken to expand safe, evidence-based treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and to decrease prescribing that may leave unused stimulants available for potential misuse. Clinicians can also screen for, and identify adults with, an increased risk for prescription stimulant misuse and pay attention to their motivations for misuse.

For a copy of the abstract, go to "Prevalence and Correlates of Prescription Stimulant Use, Misuse, Use Disorders, and Motivations for Misuse Among Adults in the United States," published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. It was authored by scientists from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and SAMHSA.  

For more information about stimulants and prescription drugs, go to Drug Facts: Prescription Stimulants and Research Report: Misuse of Prescription Drugs.

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