Study Drug Abuse

Parents, despite their good intentions, don’t always know exactly what’s going on, including what’s fueling their child’s good grades. 

New data from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health reveal that although one in 10 13- to 17-year-olds admits to using prescription stimulants or methamphetamines to gain an academic edge, only one in 100 parents believes their child is doing it.

“What we found in this poll is a clear mismatch between what parents believe and what their kids are reporting,” Dr. Matthew M. Davis, director of the poll, said in a press release. “But even though parents may not be recognizing these behaviors in their own kids, this poll also showed that one-half of the parents say they are very concerned about this abuse in their communities."

Drugs typically prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are the most commonly abused study drugs. These include Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, and Vyvanse. While they may control symptoms of impulsivity and inattention in children with ADHD, these drugs produce cocaine-like stimulation in the brain, allowing for greater concentration and the ability to stay awake long into the night.

“Taking these medications when they are not prescribed for you can lead to acute exhaustion, abnormal heart rhythms, and even confusion and psychosis if the teens get addicted and go into withdrawal,” Davis said.

Study drugs create a double-edged sword at home and in the classroom because, when used properly, they can improve a child’s grades, which will please both parent and teacher. If abused, the results can be disastrous.

The American Academy of Neurology released a paper earlier this year condemning the use of stimulant medications as neuroenhancers for otherwise healthy children.

The C.S. Mott poll data also show a major split in attitudes regarding whose responsibility it is to educate children about the dangers of stimulant abuse. 

Parents Want Study Drug Education in Schools

More than half of white parents surveyed said they are “very concerned” about the idea of children abusing study drugs, while the same concern is less prevalent in black and Hispanic families. Still, black parents are more likely to discuss the issue with their children than white or Hispanic parents.

The problem is that, though the concern is great, only about a quarter of all parents have personally talked to their children about study drugs. Parents predominantly believe that addressing study drug abuse is best left to the schools.

More than three-quarters of all the parents surveyed supported school policies aimed at preventing the use of study drugs, and many parents said that schools should be required to discuss the dangers of ADHD medication abuse in school. 

Nearly 80 percent of parents polled supported the idea of keeping a child’s prescribed ADHD medication locked up at school to keep the pills from getting into other children's hands.

Researchers say one of the obstacles to effectively tackling study drug abuse is that, though parents may express concern, when it comes to talking to their kids, they’d rather leave it to educators.

“If we are going to make a dent in this problem, and truly reduce the abuse of these drugs, we need parents, educators, health care professionals, and all who interact with teens to be more proactive about discussing the issue,” Davis said.

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