Last updated: August 23. 2013 6:09PM - 174 Views

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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 5.4 million in 2010. A particularly startling increase has been for women aged 26 to 39, for whom prescriptions soared by 750 percent 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.The upside of the medications ‚?? their ability to help those with attention-deficit disorders to focus ‚?? has nonetheless led to a continuing increase in their use, and in drug company revenue. In 2010, manufacturers sold $7.42 billion worth of the drugs, up from $4.05 billion just two years earlier.Many of these new prescriptions are warranted. When ADHD symptoms are severe, the disorder can be debilitating for children and adults. As stigma surrounding it has abated, it's not surprising that there has been an increase in adults, in particular, seeking treatment.The danger comes when people without ADHD take the meds to boost their productivity, a trap experts say has of late become especially tempting for young mothers. Remember that "Desperate Housewives" episode in which actress Felicity Huffman tries her kids' Ritalin and finds it's the perfect "mother's little helper" as she races to finish making costumes for the school performance of "Little Red Riding Hood"?"Much as kids are stressed by having to go through school and all their outside activities, their moms are right there with them," says Stephen Odom, a Newport Beach, Calif., addiction specialist. "She's more tired than anyone, and coffee just doesn't do it."Like the Huffman character, many women start out by sampling their children's meds ‚?? a felony, by the way. Then they get prescriptions of their own, sometimes by faking ADHD symptoms, or find the pills by more underhanded means.This was the case for Sunny Morrisette, a 28-year-old woman in Logan, Utah, arrested last month for trading cigarettes to neighborhood schoolchildren in return for their ADHD drugs. Morrisette allegedly told police that she was under a lot of stress and had heard "good things about Adderall and wanted to try it." She was charged with several felony drug offenses and with contributing to the delinquency of a minor."There's a lot of denial around these drugs, and the danger is easy to minimize because that prescription label can make you feel what you're doing is safe," warns Brad Lamm, the president of a New York intervention agency.The greatest rates of abuse continue to be found on college campuses, where students use the meds to study ‚?? and party ‚?? harder. Dee Owens, director of the Alcohol/Drug Information Center at Indiana University, says Adderall abuse has become "epidemic among young ladies" who are trying to keep their grades up and their weight down, and to drink more beer without falling asleep.More worrisome, and in what the National Institute on Drug Abuse calls a "cause for alarm," abuse of prescription stimulants is also becoming more prevalent in high school. An institute survey of 45,000 students found abuse of stimulants had increased among high school seniors, from 6.6 percent to 8.2 percent, just in the last two years.Full disclosure: I've been diagnosed with ADHD myself ‚?? by three different experts ‚?? and I've recently started to take Adderall on occasion, with some mixed feelings. The good part of this mix is a boost in my energy and mood, which makes sense, considering that back in the 1930s many doctors prescribed amphetamines to treat depression. Yet I worry about becoming dependent.That's one reason why, knowing just how many of my busy fellow mothers are relying on amphetamines, I've asked experts for their advice about how to watch for signs of addiction.Here's what they tell me: Make sure you take pills only under a doctor's supervision. Don't fall in the trap of boosting your dose. And get help right away if you catch yourself lying about your use or getting prescriptions from more than one doctor."Just like with any drug, if you can't stop, despite adverse consequences, you have an issue," says Dee Owens, who has worked in addiction prevention for more than 20 years. "I've talked to hundreds ‚?? no ‚?? thousands of people, and not a single person ever meant to become an addict. They just wake up one day ‚?? and there they are."

Katherine Ellison: Mother’s new little helper — ADHD pill, Adderall

Katherine Ellison: Mother’s new little helper — ADHD pill, Adderall
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