More American Workers Abusing Stimulant Drugs
Opioids aren’t the only drugs that have found a place in mainstream culture. In the past few years, more and more workers, students, and athletes have turned to illicitly obtained prescription stimulant drugs to help with performance.
Most of these stimulants are intended to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy. They include Adderall (dextroamphetamine), Vyvanse (lisdexamfeatmine), Focalin (dexmethylphenidate) and Ritalin or Concerta (methylphenidate).
Between 2008-2012, there was a 53% increase in prescriptions for ADHD. But it’s not usually the intended user that is abusing the stimulant drugs. It’s people who obtain them from somewhere else, and not for legitimate health reasons.
And unfortunately, during tough times, more than a few ADHD recipients of these drugs have been known to sling them on the streets.
Notably, stimulant medications such as these do not affect sufferers of ADHD in the same way as recreational users. In fact, the effect is the opposite.
Recent reports confirm that abuse of stimulant drugs has become more common among young professionals. Some of these include those you would think least likely to abuse – including nurses, engineers, lawyers, and techies.
The exact number of abusers is unknown, but the to give you an idea, the ADHD drug industry was a $13 billion business in 2015. And it continues to grow.
Until 2006, adults didn’t often receive a diagnosis for ADHD – it was usually reserved for children and teenagers. That year, the American Journal of Psychiatry published a study which identified 4.5% of the adult population in the U.S. as having ADHD. This threw the door wide open on prescriptions, which skyrocketed soon after.
According the the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, in 2013 around 10% of U.S. adults admitted to using prescription stimulant drugs at some point in their lives.
According the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), emergency room visits caused by abuse of ADHD stimulants more than doubled between 2005-2013. There was also a significant increase for people over the age of 18. In fact, things got so bad that some college institutions tried to ban the drugs.
But stimulant abuse is nothing new…
Reports often discuss stimulant abuse in the workplace and school as if it was something new.
Even if you throw out cocaine entirely, you’ve got the most common stimulant being used every single day – coffee.
Also, consider how the natural forms of these drugs, such as the coca leaf, have been chewed and brewed into tea by indigenous peoples for thousands of years. It works very well for them, in fact. Obviously, it’s a much safer substance than the bastardized drug labs developed from coca to create cocaine.
Historian Nicolas Rasmussen authored an essay entitled “America’s First Amphetamine Epidemic, 1929-1971”. He found that during the peak of the epidemic in the early 1960s, 80,000 kg of amphetamine salts were being produced each year in the United States. That would be a big enough supply for every U.S. person to consume forty-three 10 mg doses.
He went on to explain that this consumption was fueled by the American perception that amphetamines could be used for almost any ailment. Indeed, they were used for depression, weight loss, and – you guessed it – children with conduct or attention problems.
Enter the trucking industry…
During this time, however, most of the prescriptions for amphetamines were written for middle-aged women. But somehow, these drugs worked their way into the hands of truck drivers. Long, lonely hours on the road isn’t easy, and this seemed to help them keep going. In fact, many of the pills were going unaccounted for – presumably ill-gotten by truck drivers from pharmacists.
But soon, law enforcement started to get things figured out. As it turned out, amphetamine hallucinations became responsible for many serious and fatal accidents.
And yes, amphetamines were usually found at the scenes of these accidents. However, it took some time before people realized it was a problem with the industry as a whole. By the mid-1950s amphetamine use by truck drivers had become so widespread that the FDA organized an investigation into the problem.
A Brief History of ADHD
ADHD was first mentioned in medical literature in 1902. British pediatrician Sir George Still described it as “an abnormal defect of moral control in children.” He discovered that some children could not control their behavior the way a typical child could, but were still intelligent.
In 1955, Ritalin was approved by the FDA. It became increasingly popular as a treatment as diagnoses increased, and is still used today.
In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association changed the disorder name from hyperkinetic impulse disorder to attention deficit disorder.
At the time, hyperactivity was not considered a common symptom. There was, therefore, a distinction between ADD and ADHD. That distinction was removed in 1987.
Diagnoses of ADD and ADHD continued to climb in the 1990’s, as did prescriptions for stimulant drugs. By 2000, the condition was simply known as ADHD.
The Outlook Today
Conveniently, the American Psychiatric Association recently broadened the criteria for ADHD. And it’s no coincidence that it receives 20-30% of its yearly funding from pharmaceutical companies.
The fast-paced, competitive nature of the American marketplace seems like the perfect arena to market prescriptions for uppers and other addictive drugs.
When we report having more pain, they give us opioids. When we need a better attention span, they give us stimulants. When we are anxious or depressed, they give us anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications.
Ironically, it is our culture that fosters all of these conditions. Long hours, stiff competition, and the never-ending pursuit of the American dream. What did people do before we had all these drugs to “fix” us? Well for one, they chewed the coca leaf.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology
Related: Understanding Adderall Addiction