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Prescriptions Abuse of ADHD Drugs like Adderall on the Rise Despite Awareness of Side Effects

Feb 5, 2013

Despite growing concern among the public, the number of prescriptions written for drugs to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder has risen dramatically in the last five years, leading to more speculation that these stimulant drugs are often abused.

New York Times reports this week on a former college class president who developed a dangerous addiction to ADHD drugs he was prescribed and his father believes that unnecessary prescriptions written by physicians too quick to fill out their prescription pads rather than offer a competent diagnosis likely contributed to his death.

Rick Fee told The Times that his son, Richard, was an accomplished college graduate who was studying to pass entrance exams to get into medical school when he was found hanging in his bedroom closet in 2011. The father believes his son had become addicted to Adderall and Vyvanse, two common drugs prescribed in the treatment of ADHD, while he was an undergraduate student at a school in North Carolina. His son, he and fellow students said, was able to easily access Adderall pills on campus and found that they helped him focus to study and do homework. His good grades and determination to continue his education in medical school were all indications that nothing was wrong but Richard Fee’s behaviors were painting a different picture.

For whatever reason, the student stopped seeking Adderall pills from fellow students and attended a clinic local to his college where he obtained a prescription for Vyvanse. The student only needed to fill out a questionnaire and endure a quick exam before he was diagnosed with a form of attention deficit disorder without hyperactivity.

His father believed that he was becoming addicted to his ADHD medications and wondered why physicians were continuing to prescribe these drugs even though his son exhibited very few symptoms of the disorder. Before his death and after a psychotic episode that landed the student in a mental hospital for a week, Fee was prescribed another three-month course of Adderall. His father objected and demanded that his doctors stop prescribing the ADHD medication, fearing that it would kill his son. Two weeks after receiving that prescription is when he was found dead in his bedroom of a suicide.

The case underscores the dangers of ADHD drug abuse. Adderall, specifically, is considered a Class II drug (like cocaine) because of its addictive qualities. Prescriptions of the drug, despite warnings of its addictive qualities and awareness that too many of these drugs are being dispensed and abused, have skyrocketed in the last five years. The Times cites data from IMS Health that shows 14 million prescriptions for ADHD drugs were written in 2011. That’s more than twice the amount written just four years prior.

While the rise in prescriptions could be due to several factors, one leading the spike in use of the drugs can likely be attributed to “savvy” young adults who know how to manipulate a diagnosis to make it appear they have ADHD simply to be prescribed the medications.

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