The rate of prescription stimulant misuse has increased significantly among young adults, although the number of prescriptions for this age group has remained unchanged, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Researchers found that 60% of all people aged 12 years and older who misused dextroamphetamine-amphetamine and similar medications were in the 18- to 25-year-old age group.

“The growing problem is among young adults,” said Ramin Mojtabai, MD, MPH, PhD, a professor of mental health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “In college, especially, these drugs are used as study-aid medication to help students stay up all night and cram. Our sense is that a sizeable proportion of those who use them believe these medications make them smarter and more capable of studying. We need to educate this group that there could be serious adverse effects from taking these drugs and we don’t know much at all about their long-term health effects.”

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The study included data from 3 national surveys: National Disease and Therapeutic Index (a survey of office-based practices), National Survey on Drug Use and Health (a population survey of substance use), and Drug Abuse Warning Network (a survey of ED visits).

The study had 3 main findings:

  • The number of visits to a medical professional in which a patient was prescribed dextroamphetamine-amphetamine did not reflect coincident changes with the prevalence of the drug’s nonmedical use – the number of prescriptions for this drug remained relatively stable, whereas nonmedical use among adults significantly increased.
  • In adults, nonmedical use of dextroamphetamine-amphetamine increased by 67%, and related ED visits increased by 156%. These rates did not change among adolescents, which suggests a different usage pattern between the 2 groups.
  • Clinicians were the main source of misused stimulants, regardless of stimulant type or age group.

Young adults who misuse stimulants often get the drugs from family or friends. Two-thirds of these family members and friends obtained the medication from a prescription.

The researchers recommend instituting a monitoring program for prescription stimulants, similar to those in effect for prescription painkillers. Before prescribing a patient one of these medications, clinicians should be able to check a database to ensure they are not receiving multiple prescriptions from multiple clinicians.


  1. Chen L, Crum RM, Strain EC, et al. Prescriptions, nonmedical use, and emergency department visits involving prescription stimulants. J Clin Psychiatry. 2016; doi:10.4088/JCP.14m09291.