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 Annual 2013

Annual 2013


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One Pill Makes You Energized

Using Prescription Stimulants for the Wrong Reasons

The quest to be more focused, to feel more energized and to even lose weight is driving more moms and teens to abuse prescription stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall.

“There has been a tremendous rise in the number of people using prescription medications for other than their intended purposes,” says Madeleine Lansky, M.D., who practices child, adolescent and adult psychiatry and psychoanalysis in San Francisco and Oakland. She has noticed such an increase within her practice and says she has colleagues who report similar escalation. “It appears that women may be at added risk for abusing prescription stimulants such as Ritalin, Concerta and Adderall. If someone is struggling with confidence, weight, energy or meeting deadlines, it is understandable that taking a prescription medication would be very tempting.”

While stimulants are often prescribed for people who are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and can help heighten concentration and alertness for those patients, such stimulants have the ability to cause addiction and serious side effects when not taken correctly.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence cautions that prescription stimulants can be addictive, particularly when taken in a manner inconsistent with their labeling. The NCADD warns consumers against using any medications that were not prescribed to them or taking prescribed medicine in a manner or dosage different from what their physician has prescribed.

“The risks of taking a stimulant differently than its intended use include fast or irregular heartbeat, reduced appetite, heart failure, nervousness, insomnia and addiction,” Lansky says. “Taking high doses of a stimulant can lead to paranoia, aggression, dangerously high body temperature, an irregular heartbeat, life-threatening seizures or cardiovascular failure.”

Public health experts say the inappropriate use of prescription drugs nationwide is epidemic and warn that stimulants and other medications are potent, highly addictive and especially dangerous when combined with one another or with other drugs or alcohol.

According to the Reliance Center in San Francisco, alcohol use and cigarette smoking are down among 12th-graders across the United States, while the misuse of Ritalin and other stimulants that aren’t prescribed, is up an alarming 300 percent.

“Prescription medications present an especially insidious risk, perhaps more so than illicit drugs such as heroin or cocaine when they are taken without a prescription or doctor’s supervision,” Lansky says. “Because they seem more ‘normal’ or ‘medical,’ prescription medications can be viewed as being far more harmless and mild than they actually are.”

When children who have ADHD take the drug Ritalin, they experience a calming and focusing effect as the drug helps them to slow down their thoughts and take a breath before acting or making a decision. In preteens, teens and adults without ADHD or ADD, however, the drug has the opposite effect, providing them with the energy and focus to complete large projects or power through when they are tired. In high school, where pressure over good grades and competition for college admissions are extremely intense, students can find the allure of stimulants tempting, not realizing that they can be dangerous and carry high legal risks. A teen who gives his or her Adderall or other prescription stimulant pills to fellow students can be prosecuted for a crime—the Drug Enforcement Agency lists prescription stimulants, including Adderall and Ritalin, as Class II controlled substances, the same as cocaine and morphine; they rank among the most addictive substances that have a
medical use.

“We often see teens who are referred to us by the court system after they have gotten in trouble with the law for selling or abusing prescription stimulants,” says Dee Gagnon, admissions and outpatient counselor at Thunder Road Adolescent Treatment Center, an Oakland teen treatment center affiliated with Alta Bates Summit Medical Center.

While some teens take stimulants to get better grades and maintain their status as overachievers, others abuse the pills as a way of escaping reality.

“A lot of teens are dealing with something painful in their lives—a parent’s divorce or maybe being bullied at school,” Gagnon says. “For them, the stimulants offer a ‘high’ and help them to temporarily forget their problems.”

Lansky notes that it’s rare for someone to consciously work to become addicted to a prescription drug. “Drug abuse often begins socially, or to self-medicate for difficulties that have not been evaluated
or treated by a clinician,” Lansky says.

If you suspect that a loved one is abusing prescription stimulants, both Lansky and Gagnon say there are numerous local resources that can help families facing addiction issues.

“We offer a free telephone service for families in Alameda and Contra Costa counties,” Gagnon says. “If you suspect your teen has an addiction problem, please call. There are various treatment options available and we can help families find a program that best
meets their needs.”

Lansky says that addictions flourish under conditions of silence, shame and secrets, and that it can often be difficult to determine if a family member or friend has a prescription medication addiction, especially in the early stages.

“A red flag is when someone is taking medication that was prescribed for another person,” Lansky says. “Other concerning signs include significant, unexplained weight loss or weight gain, paranoia, job or school problems, financial problems, agitation, chronic lying and isolating from friends and family.”

Break the Addiction
Thunder Road lists resources on its site, including a checklist for parents who may suspect their teen is addicted to prescription stimulants.
Visit www.altabatessummit.org/thunderroad or call 510-653-5040 and ask to speak to someone in the admissions department.

If you’re an adult and suspect that you may be addicted to prescription stimulants, take the self-assessment quiz at Narcotics Anonymous, www.na.org.

You can also find out about local NA meetings by visiting www.norcalna.org or calling 707-422-9234.

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