By Robert Preidt
WEDNESDAY, Oct. 25, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- American teens underestimate their use of amphetamines, likely because many don't know that the attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug Adderall is an amphetamine, a new study suggests.
High school and college students sometimes use Adderall, a type of stimulant medication, without a doctor's order because they believe it will boost their mental function and school performance.
Use of amphetamines without a doctor's order, known as nonmedical use, carries a high risk of abuse and dependency, as well as potential harmful side effects such as heart problems and seizures. People who use prescription stimulants like amphetamines without a doctor's order also are more likely to engage in other drug use and risky behaviors, the researchers said.
The researchers examined the responses of more than 24,000 high school seniors who took part in a national survey between 2010 and 2015. Though nearly 8 percent of the students reported nonmedical amphetamine use and about 7 percent reported nonmedical Adderall use in the past year, about 29 percent of nonmedical Adderall users reported no nonmedical amphetamine use.
Students aged 18 and older, black students, and students with parents with lower education levels were more likely than others to report no nonmedical amphetamine use, despite reporting nonmedical Adderall use, the study found. It was conducted by the Center for Drug Use and HIV/HCV Research at New York University's Meyers College of Nursing in New York City.
"Over a quarter of teens who reported using Adderall without a doctor telling them to take it contradicted themselves by saying they do not use amphetamine," senior author Joseph Palamar, an associate professor of population health, said in a university news release.
"As a result, the estimated prevalence of nonmedical amphetamine use of 7.9 percent may be an underestimate," he said. "It may be as high as 9.8 percent, or one out of 10 high school seniors, when considering the discordant reporting we found."
"Our findings suggest that many young people are unaware that Adderall is amphetamine," Palamar said. "In addition, such conflicting reports mean that prescription stimulant misuse may be underestimated."
The study was published Oct. 23 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
"Alarmingly, we had similar findings regarding opioids in another study, with many teens appearing unaware that the Vicodin and OxyContin they took are opioids," Palamar added. "Better drug education is needed to inform the public about common drugs like amphetamines and opioids."
He and his colleagues also said their study shows the need to improve how drug use surveys are conducted. For example, surveys could provide images of specific substances to help respondents recognize specific pills.