Does it surprise you to know that amphetamines are the most-abused drug in California?
This should be of particular concern to the parents of teenagers, because amphetamine-class drugs include prescription Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) medications, as well as illicit methamphetamine.
ADHD and Amphetamines
Over 10% of all children between the ages of 5 and 17 are diagnosed as having ADHD at some point, and the average age of onset is just 7 years old. This calculates to 6.4 million youths in America. And ADHD rates are also the rise. In 2003, 7.8% of children were diagnosed with the condition.
However, ADHD is much more common in boys than it is in girls – 13% compared to 5%.
In 1990, approximately 600,000 children in the United States were prescribed stimulants for their ADHD. However, by 2013, that number had ballooned to 3.5 MILLION.
Of special relevance, 80% of children who need ADHD medications still need them as teenagers, and 50% still need them when they reach adulthood.
Astonishing Amphetamine Admissions
The 2015 Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) report, put out by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, shows that there were almost 45,000 treatment admissions in California where an amphetamine or another similar stimulant was listed as the primary drug of choice.
That number represents 30% of ALL treatment admissions in the state.
However, this is not a one-year statistical blip – between 2013 and 2015, there were nearly 140,000 treatment admissions for amphetamines in California.
Examples of Amphetamines
Amphetamine/stimulant medications are typically prescribed as a treatment for ADHD.
- Adderall/Adderall XR
ADHD Medications ARE Addictive
Unknown to most parents, ADHD stimulants ARE highly addictive.
Take Adderall, for example.
Because of its high potential for misuse and addiction, Adderall is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance. At normal therapeutic doses, the risk of addiction is remote, even when taken long-term. However, at higher recreational or nonmedical doses, Adderall dependence or addiction is much more than a mere risk – it is a near-certainty.
88% of high-dose Adderall abusers experience withdrawal symptoms within 24 hours following the last use. And those symptoms can last for up to a month.
One major hazard of chronic Adderall abuse is a tolerance that results in constantly-increasing doses. Amphetamine-tolerant people will take up to 5 g per day. This is 100 times the normal therapeutic dose.
Adderall is pure amphetamines – 75% dextroamphetamine/25% levoamphetamine. Because of its side effects, Adderall is frequently misused, including as a(n):
- Physical performance enhancer
- Cognition enhancer
Amphetamine Medications Misused as Study Aids?
The last side effect – cognition enhancement – is why Adderall and other amphetamine medications are so often misused by high school and college students. They are used as supposed study aids.
However, any potential “benefits” are negligible, because of other factors.
For instance, the students generally tend to misuse prescription stimulants already have lower GPAs. The presumptive “improvement” may just be due to…studying.
Furthermore, ADHD medication abusers typically exhibit much greater-than-normal rates of heavy drinking and drug use. This could wipe out any “gains”.
In addition, students using prescription stimulants to help them study are often attempting to make up for earlier behaviors. For example, they may have sacrificed academics earlier in the semester so they could have an active social life.
Students who misuse prescription stimulants also skip over 16% of their classes. In contrast, students who don’t misuse ADHD medications only skip about 9%.
Finally – and most significantly – a 2013 University of Pennsylvania study suggests that prescription stimulant use results in virtually NO measurable cognitive improvement. Interestingly, study participants taking ADHD medications non-medically still believed they performed better on tests.
The theory is that any sense of greater productivity has less to do with actual cognition enhancement and more to do with euphoric side-effects. In other words, amphetamine medications might not improve knowledge or retention, but they will make studying seem more enjoyable.
Amphetamine Abuse among Teenagers and Young Adults
The misuse of prescription amphetamines is far more common among teenagers and young adults than high school you might realize. The problem, which begins in early adolescence and continues through the and college years, changes over time, as do teens’ perceptions
- 15% of students in the 8th grade believe that obtaining prescription stimulants for nonmedical use is “easy”.
- By 10th grade, it reaches 28.5%.
- It jumps again by the 12th grade to 47%.
- 40% of teens think that prescription misuse is “safe”.
- 29% of teenagers don’t believe that prescription medication addiction is possible.
- Annually, 36% of college freshmen are offered an ADHD medication nonmedically.
- Over 13% accept the offer.
- Sophomores – over 38% have the chance, and almost 18% take it.
- Juniors – over 41% have the chance, more than 21% take it.
- Seniors – 32% have the chance, over 16% take it.
- Considering the 4 years of college as a whole, 62% of students have an opportunity to use ADHD drugs nonmedically, and 31% use them.
- College students are TWICE AS LIKELY as any other age group to misuse stimulant medications.
- The time immediately preceding midterms and final exams tend to trigger misuse – 40% of college students who misuse prescription stimulants do so during testing periods.
- Over 90% of college students who take ADHD drugs admit to faking their symptoms to obtain stimulant prescriptions.
- 90% of college-age students who take prescription stimulants without a prescription are also "heavy" drinkers and admit to engaging in episodes of binge-drinking.
Polydrug abuse among those who misuse prescription stimulants is also much higher, resulting in a:
- 3X greater likelihood of past-year marijuana use – 80% vs 27%
- 8X greater likelihood of cocaine use – 29% vs 3.6%
- 8X greater likelihood of benzodiazepine misuse – 5% vs 3%
- 5X greater likelihood of prescription opioid misuse – 45% vs 9%
Importantly, 75% of all overdoses involve multiple substances, as do 98% of all fatal overdoses.
What about Methamphetamines?
Because of the American crackdown on the chemicals required to make methamphetamine, production of the drug has largely moved to Mexico. As a result, California in general – and Southern California in particular – is the national hotspot for meth.
Between 2009 and 2014, methamphetamine confiscations in California skyrocketed 300%. And in fiscal year 2014 alone, the Drug Enforcement Agency in San Diego seized almost 15,000 pounds of methamphetamines – over 60% of all the meth seized in the US that entire year.
Does that mean, more people are USING meth?
In 2010, 353,000 Americans self-reported that they used methamphetamine within the past month. However, by 2013, the number had risen sharply, to 595,000. This is a 69% increase.
What Does All of This Mean?
Although the headlines all reflect the ongoing opioid epidemic, there are other dangers right here in California. There are two main factors that complicate the issue of amphetamine abuse among teenagers.
First, ADHD is a legitimate medical condition. It can be confusing for parents – and even medical professionals – to tell the difference between a teenager who really has ADHD and one who is faking the symptoms to get access to the drugs.
Second, the proximity to Mexico is a major concern, especially in Southern California. The overwhelming – and rising – availability of methamphetamines in the area naturally means that more teenagers will experiment with this dangerous and deadly drug.
So What Are Parents to Do?
Most importantly, pay attention. Always be aware of where your teenager is, what they are doing, and they are doing it with. And if something looks suspicious, investigate.
If you find out that your child is abusing prescription ADHD medication, methamphetamine, or any other intoxicating substance, get help. The problem of teen addiction is too big for families to deal with alone.
This is where Teensavers Treatment Centers in Orange County comes in. For almost 40 years, families in crisis because of substance abuse have turned to Teensavers for help and support. If you have need, make the call today.
by Albert Fontenot