Methylphenidate: Usage trends
Last modified: Saturday, 20. June 2009 - 12:58 pm
While the prevalence of MPH abuse is low, at least compared to other forms of drug abuse, officials worry that the rate of MPH abuse is increasing, especially among high school and college students.
Scope and severity
In 1999, methylphenidate was the most widely dispensed stimulant medication used for treating ADHD. More of it was used than amphetamine, the next most frequently used stimulant that is used to treat ADHD.
Yearly, an estimated four to six million children in the United States take MPH on a daily basis as a treatment for ADHD. In comparison, only about 25,000 school-age youths were on the medication in England and Wales during 2000. Definitive statistics are not available for the drug’s illegal use, and so the exact extent to which it is being abused in any country is unknown. However, it is known that abuse rates increase along with the number of legal prescriptions written. In a study of MPH abusers over a four-year period of 1992-1996, researchers found a significant increase in methylphenidate misuse, especially in white adolescents.
According to a 2001 published survey of cases reported to poison control centers, there was a sevenfold increase in the number of cases in which MPH was involved during the five-year period that ended in 1999. However, the total number of cases making up the sevenfold increase totaled only 530.
In 1990, there were 271 emergency room mentions for MPH in reports to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN). In 1999, that figure had grown to 1,478 mentions, but the good news is that the 1999 figure represented a slight decrease from 1998’s all-time high of 1,728 mentions. To put those figures into context, in 1998 there were 168,763 cocaine-related visits to hospital emergency rooms.
Age, ethnic, and gender trends
According to the Woodworth congressional testimony, “Boys are four times more likely to receive a diagnosis of ADHD and be prescribed stimulant medication.” Critics are also disturbed about a trend of prescribing the drug to ever-younger children. For instance, in 1998 a national auditing firm estimated that 4,000 MPH prescriptions were written for children two years of age or less. Some experts, disturbed by this disquieting statistic, point out that MPH has not been approved for use in children under six years of age because safety and effectiveness in that age range has not been established.