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Johns Hopkins Health - Abusing the System

Fall 2009
Issue No. 6

Abusing the System

Date: September 24, 2009

group of teenagers, mixed race

Cosmetic use of prescription stimulants is a growing problem among high school and college students. Know when to get help for your child

Twenty or 30 years ago, it was no big deal to grab a cup of coffee and some NoDoz from the local drugstore to cram for exams. Today, college-age kids—and even high schoolers—are arming themselves with prescription-strength stimulants that are just as easy to get.

There’s a perception that the drugs—typically ADHD medications such as Ritalin, Adderall and Concerta—are making kids smarter, faster, more focused and more competitive. It’s that cosmetic or cognitive-enhancing use that is worrying experts like child psychiatrist Mark Riddle, M.D.

“It’s wrong,” he says. “What it’s doing is setting [your children] up for abuse and addiction.”

Part of the problem is how easy the drugs are to acquire. In a study published in the journal Nature, one-third of the respondents said they could get the medications over the Internet. But most kids are getting them from friends who have legal prescriptions.

“There are significant safety issues, since some of these medications are potentially addictive,” Riddle says. When they are abused, short-term risks include heart attacks and lethal seizures.

Your children need to talk to an expert if they feel as if they need a drug to complete life’s tasks, Riddle says.

Also, if your child—or your friend—is staying up three nights in a row or seems a little too jazzed up, he says, you may want to start asking some questions. And if your child’s prescription seems to be disappearing faster than it should, that’s a red flag; it’s time to seek professional help.?

It’s Not All Bad
High school and college students are known to abuse ADHD drugs and other prescription-strength stimulants, but child psychiatrist Mark Riddle, M.D., says it’s important not to demonize these medications.

“There are many undiagnosed cases of ADD/ADHD and plenty of people who are helped by prescription drugs,” he says. “We want to make sure kids and adults are being evaluated by professionals.”

Did You Know?

  • One in five teens has abused a prescription drug, and three in 10 say they have a close friend who uses prescription stimulants.
  • On college campuses, one-third of the supply of abused stimulants comes from students who have legal prescriptions.

Source: Partnership for a Drug-Free America

For more information about the evaluation and treatment of ADHD, visit For appointments and consultations, call 877-546-1872.