16 million US adults on prescription stimulants, study shows

About 16 million U.S. adults are using prescription stimulants, according to research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The findings appear in one of the first wide-ranging surveys of the prevalence and abuse of medications commonly used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The study, published Monday in the American Journal of Psychiatry, focused on adults 18 and older from the 2015 and 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, comprising 102,000 respondents.

The nationally representative survey estimates that 5 million people misuse prescription stimulants, and 400,000 have use disorders.

Over half of respondents (56.3 percent) said they use prescription stimulants for cognitive enhancement — to be alert or concentrate — followed by use as a study aid (21.9 percent). About 15.5 percent of respondents said they take the medications to “get high or being hooked,” and only 4.1 percent said they use it for weight loss.

Many respondents who misused the prescription stimulants reported getting the medications from a family member or friend with a prescription, and about 20 percent said they buy or steal pills from friends or relatives.

The researchers noted that despite a high level of misuse, there were low levels of disorders among this population, yet it is a trend worth worrying about.

“For some, misuse without disorder may be an early expression of a trajectory toward stimulant use disorder,” they wrote.

“Patients who are using their medication for cognitive enhancement or diverting their medication to others present a high risk,” the authors wrote in the conclusion.

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