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Friends, Family Chief Sources of Abused Prescription Stimulants

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Friends, Family Chief Sources of Abused Prescription StimulantsRelatives and friends are the most likely sources of the medications consumed during acts of prescription stimulant abuse, a team of American and Taiwanese researchers has found.

Prescription stimulants are a diverse group of medications commonly used in the treatment of conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, the sleep-wake disorder narcolepsy and dangerously severe obesity. All told, these medications rank highly among the most widely abused prescription substances in the U.S. In a study published in October 2014 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers used data from an annual, nationwide U.S. project called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to determine the most common sources for the medications consumed during acts of prescription stimulant abuse.

Prescription Stimulants

Whether they’re legal or illicit/illegal, all stimulant substances get their name because they promote an increased pace of communication between the core cells of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). While caffeine and other legal, non-prescription stimulants typically have a relatively modest impact on central nervous system function, stimulants that require a doctor’s prescription have a much stronger impact. Stimulant medications prescribed in the U.S. for the treatment of ADHD include amphetamine, a close amphetamine relative known as dextroamphetamine and a third substance called methylphenidate. Stimulant medications prescribed for the treatment of narcolepsy include dextroamphetamine, methylphenidate and a fairly weak substance called modafinil. Doctors sometimes treat medically serious obesity with a legally produced form of methamphetamine, a substance much more well-known for its use in an illegal context.

Like illegally produced methamphetamine, cocaine and other stimulant drugs, prescription stimulants can set the stage for physical dependence and substance addiction when consumed excessively over an extended period of time. For this and other reasons, doctors commonly limit the circumstances in which they issue stimulant prescriptions, limit the dosages they prescribe for any given patient and monitor their patients for indications of dependence/addiction.

Prescription Stimulant Abuse

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) is sponsored by a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services called the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Among other things, this survey tracks the number of adults and teenagers who abuse a prescription stimulant each year. According to figures compiled in the 2013 version of the NSDUH, stimulant medications as a whole rank as the third most commonly abused prescription substances in America. For most of the U.S. population, the single most commonly abused group of prescription substances is opioid medications; however, among young people (who have a tendency to misuse ADHD stimulants as “study drugs”), stimulant medications surpass opioid medications in popularity.

What Are the Sources?

In addition to tracking the types of prescription substances abused by Americans, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health tracks the sources of these substances. In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland and Taiwan’s Taipei City Hospital used information gathered from the NSDUH between 2006 and 2011 to identify the most likely avenues of prescription stimulant acquisition. During the years in question, 4,945 nationally representative teenage and adult prescription stimulant abusers reported the sources of the medications they consumed. There were three potential sourcing options: relatives or friends, at least one prescribing doctor or a drug dealer or similar illegal operator.

After reviewing their findings, the researchers found that relatives and friends were the most likely sources of abused stimulant medications. Generally speaking, medications obtained through these sources cost the stimulant abuser little or no money. In descending order, the two other most common sources of abused stimulant medications are one or more prescribing doctors and a dealer or other illegal outlet. People most likely to obtain an abused prescription stimulant from a doctor include individuals affected by mental illness and individuals who seek help for mental illness. People most likely to obtain an abused prescription stimulant from a dealer or other illegal outlet include men/boys, individuals who initiate substance use at a relatively early age, individuals who get involved in law-breaking activities, individuals who don’t have a job and individuals who don’t finish high school. Together, people who acquire abused stimulant medications from doctors and/or illegal outlets also have a higher rate of stimulant intake, higher rates for drug dependence/addiction and higher chances of entering some form of substance treatment.

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