Mother’s new little helper — Adderall: Stressed-out women are turning to the ADHD drugs their children take
All over the country in recent weeks, mothers of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder have been scrambling to fill prescriptions for their kids’ stimulant medications, due to suddenly scarce supplies.
Drug firms blame the shortage on quotas of the psychoactive ingredients, set by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to control abuse. Some DEA officials counter that the drug firms have chosen to use their limited allotments to make more of the pricey, brand-name drugs, causing a dearth of the cheaper generics.
Manufacturing issues aside, however, the National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests there may be another, more ironic reason for the stimulant shortages: namely, a dramatic increase in their use — and abuse — by women of childbearing age.
Over the last decade, the number of prescriptions written each year for generic and brand-name forms of Adderall, an amphetamine mix that has recently become the most popular ADHD remedy, has surged among women over 26, rising from a total of roughly 800,000 in 2002 to some 5.4 million in 2010. A particularly startling increase has been for women aged 26 to 39, for whom prescriptions soared by 750% in this time frame.
Though part of this rise can be accounted for by an increase in population, officials at the National Institute on Drug Abuse are concerned that it is widening the pipeline for diversion and abuse.
Many doctors recommend stimulants for children and adults who have symptoms of ADHD, including difficulty sustaining attention and maintaining self-control. Experts in the field say they help strengthen the parts of the brain involved in these functions by improving the utilization of dopamine, a key neurotransmitter.
Yet amphetamines and other stimulants can also be abused, especially when crushed and snorted, providing a “rush” that has been compared to that of cocaine. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists warns that even when taken as prescribed, the medications can be habit-forming, and also have possibly serious side effects, including seizures, paranoia, aggressive behavior and tics. In people with preexisting heart problems, there is an added danger of cardiac arrest.