As an Akron Children’s Hospital clinical pharmacologist who has cared for overdose survivors, Michelle Bestic has first-hand knowledge of the scourge of opioid abuse.
She also sees that the opioid crisis, severe as it is, sometimes overshadows more common types of substance abuse among teens.
“Teens are more likely to abuse alcohol, marijuana or other prescription drugs than opioids,” Michelle said. “A big concern is abuse of stimulants that are used to treat ADD and ADHD.”
Those stimulants include Adderall and Ritalin. Amphetamines and other stimulants used without a prescription are the second-most widely used class of illicit drugs by teens, behind marijuana.
Abuse of stimulants has fallen since the 1990s, but more than 6 percent of 10th and 12th graders had abused the drugs in the past year, according to the 2016 Monitoring the Future survey. By comparison, 0.7 percent of 12th graders reported ever using heroin in their lifetime.
“Amphetamine abuse is decreasing overall, but not significantly,” Michelle said. “It doesn’t get the attention because most kids aren’t dying from it, but more kids are using these drugs. One in 4 teens reports having misused or abused a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime.”
She said abuse of stimulants often starts in high school and peaks in young adulthood.
“Prevalence is highest on college campuses,” she said. “There’s this theory that it helps you study and do better on tests. It’s not true. There is no evidence that it helps with test taking.”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse said high doses of stimulants can raise body temperature and blood pressure to dangerous levels – and can lead to seizures, heart failure and death.
Marijuana use among teens had dropped over many years through the late 2000s. It is now on the increase, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Legalization has likely influenced teen attitudes about marijuana.“Every time when adolescents perceive risk reduction, usage goes up,” Michelle said. “Because of legalization, they see marijuana as safer.”
Marijuana use can hurt the developing teen brain, especially heavy use in adolescence, the CDC says.
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