Prescriptions, nonmedical use, and emergency department visits involving prescription stimulants

J Clin Psychiatry. 2016 Mar;77(3):e297-304. doi: 10.4088/JCP.14m09291.


Objective: Little is known regarding the temporal trends in prescriptions, nonmedical use, and emergency department (ED) visits involving prescription stimulants in the United States. Our aim was to examine these 3 national trends involving dextroamphetamine-amphetamine and methylphenidate in adults and adolescents.

Method: Three national surveys conducted between 2006-2011 were used: National Disease and Therapeutic Index, a survey of office-based practices; National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a population survey of substance use; and Drug Abuse Warning Network, a survey of ED visits. Ordinary least squares regression was used to examine temporal changes over time and the associations between the 3 trends.

Results: In adolescents, treatment visits involving dextroamphetamine-amphetamine and methylphenidate decreased over time; nonmedical dextroamphetamine-amphetamine use remained stable, while nonmedical methylphenidate use declined by 54.4% in 6 years. ED visits involving either medication remained stable. In adults, treatment visits involving dextroamphetamine-amphetamine remained unchanged, while nonmedical use went up by 67.1% and ED visits went up by 155.9%. These 3 trends involving methylphenidate remained unchanged. Across age groups, the major source for nonmedical use of both medications was a friend or relative; two-thirds of these friends and relatives had obtained the medication from a physician.

Conclusions: Trends in prescriptions for stimulants do not correspond to trends in reports of nonmedical use and ED visits. Increased nonmedical stimulant use may not be simply attributed to increased prescribing trends. Future studies should focus on deeper understanding of the proportion of, risk factors for, and motivations for drug diversions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amphetamines / therapeutic use
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / therapeutic use*
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methylphenidate / therapeutic use
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / trends
  • Prescription Drug Misuse / trends*
  • Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult


  • Amphetamines
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Methylphenidate