ADHD News & Research

Non-Medical Use of Prescription Stimulants On the Rise

More people than ever before are abusing stimulant medications typically prescribed for ADHD, and the health risks associated with this drug abuse are grave, according to studies presented at the 2019 APSARD conference last week.

January 29, 2019

The misuse of ADHD drugs1 continues to rise, according to studies presented by Stephen Faraone, Ph.D., at the 2019 American Professional Society of ADHD and Related Disorders (APSARD) earlier this month. Non-medical use (NMU) of prescription stimulants is increasing in the United States, despite the fact that abuse of stimulant prescriptions comes with a high health risk, especially if taken by non-oral means.

In his presentation, Faraone cited a survey of 12,000 U.S. adults aged 18 to 49, 1,207 of whom reported having ADHD. Among the 66.5 percent of adults with ADHD who take medication to treat their symptoms, the following was reflected in the survey:

  • 2 percent claimed to have exaggerated their symptoms to get the prescription
  • 25 percent reported NMU of their prescriptions
  • 19 percent took more medication than prescribed
  • 18 percent modified their medication in some way, such as chewing, dissolving in liquid, or snorting

Respondents reported making these modifications to achieve a faster effect on ADHD symptoms and a more intense high than typically achieved by swallowing the pill whole.

Non-medical use of ADHD stimulants is medically damaging and potentially life-threatening, according to data from 20 studies on the outcome of NMU of prescription stimulants. 2005 to 2010 data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network showed an almost 450 percent increase in the number of emergency department visits following NMU of prescription stimulants among patients aged 18 to 25, and a 420 percent increase among those aged 26 and older.2 The American Association of Poison Control Centers also reports that, from 2012 to 2016, in-patient admissions increased due to NMU of prescription stimulants.3

These findings underscore the importance of educating health care providers and the general public about the dangers of abusing prescription stimulants.


Devon Frye. “More Young Adults Misuse Stimulant Medications.” ADDitude Magazine. (February 2016).
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2011:
National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits.” Dawn, 2011: National Ed Estimates. (May 2013).

Samantha A. King, Marcel J. Casavant, Henry A. Spiller, Nichole L. Hodges, Thitphalak Chounthirath, Gary A. Smith. “Pediatric ADHD Medication Exposures Reported to US Poison Control Centers.” Pediatrics (June 2018).