The diversion and misuse of pharmaceutical stimulants: what do we know and why should we care?

Addiction. 2012 Mar;107(3):467-77. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2011.03720.x.


Aims: To examine the literature pertaining to the diversion and misuse of pharmaceutical stimulants.

Methods: Relevant literature was identified through comprehensive MEDLINE, EMBASE and PubMed searches.

Results: The evidence to date suggests that the prevalence of diversion and misuse of pharmaceutical stimulants varies across adolescent and young adult student populations, but is higher than that among the general population, with the highest prevalence found among adults with attention deficit-hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and users of other illicit drugs. Concerns that these practices have become more prevalent as a result of increased prescribing are not supported by large-scale population surveys. Information on trends in misuse in countries where there have been recent increases in prescription and consumption rates, however, is limited. Little is known about the frequency and chronicity of misuse, or the extent of associated harms, particularly among those populations, i.e. adolescents, young adult student populations, those with ADHD and illicit drug users, where abuse may be more likely to occur.

Conclusions: Continued monitoring of the diversion and misuse of pharmaceutical stimulants is of major clinical importance. Despite recognition of the abuse liability of these medications, there is a paucity of data on the prevalence, patterns and harms of diversion and misuse among populations where problematic use and abuse may be most likely to occur (e.g. adolescents, young adults, illicit drug users). Comprehensive investigations of diversion and misuse among these populations should be a major research priority, as should the assessment of abuse and dependence criteria among those identified as regular users.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / drug therapy*
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants*
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Services Misuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / supply & distribution
  • Motivation
  • Prevalence
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Illicit Drugs