Increased stimulant prescription a concern for youths

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Increased stimulant prescription doesn’t have a clear explanation—but it proves a need for greater scrutiny of the drugs’ impact on young people. 
 
A new Ontario Drug Policy Research Network study indicates use of prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin has risen almost 30 per cent in the past five years. Five per cent of boys aged 13 to 18 are prescribed the drug, compared to 2.4 per cent of girls the same age. 
 
The study raises more questions than it answers. It doesn’t account for the inappropriate prescription of stimulants and their unprescribed use for studying. 
 
However, the gendered divide in the study’s findings suggests stimulant prescriptions for young people should be carefully scrutinized. 
 
This is clearest in youths under 18. Children often show hyperactive behaviour consistent with attention deficit disorders. A concerned adult might mistake that with a need for medication. 
 
An early stimulant prescription can “mask the ordinary emotional turmoil of growing up,” potentially prompting children to depend on the drug and its effects as they grow into adulthood.  
 
The study’s findings also present gendered implications. It states lower female prescription rates could indicate disorders going undiagnosed. 
 
Girls show different ADHD symptoms than boys, which could cause some physicians to either misdiagnose—or, in some cases, completely overlook—young people with the condition. Similarly, boys may be misdiagnosed with an attention deficit disorder while suffering from mental illnesses that unhealthy forms of masculinity stigmatize, including depression and anxiety.
 
Treating stimulants as a catch-all for behavioural and emotional struggles without a complete understanding presents genuine harm for young people. 
 
Further, the availability of stimulants has vast repercussions for university-aged men.
 
A 2016 Journal longform detailed study drug abuse at Queen’s, telling the stories of men seeking out stimulants when stressed about meeting expectations. 
 
It’s common for young people to buy friends’ Adderall or to fake ADHD symptoms to get their own prescriptions. It’s hard for a doctor to deny you medication if you report relevant symptoms, and word-of-mouth promotes stimulants as quick fixes for study habits in times of need.
 
The increase in stimulant prescription for men has no clear explanation, but it does indicate a problem of access. It’s concerning young people feel the immediate need to turn to drugs without information or a prescription.
 
As university students, we ignore the results of this study at our own peril. As stimulants are normalized from a young age, comfort with and curiosity about the drugs can shape a young person’s educational future. 
 
Our cultural dependence on stimulants speaks to the ever-increasing pressure on young people to fulfill certain behavioural expectations, with or without ADHD.
 
It’s essential we recognize the dangerous precedent an early dependence on stimulants could render young people—whether it’s prescribed or consumed recreationally. Once a dependence has been established, it can be lifelong and carry vast repercussions.
 
Before prescription, we must first understand the importance of sufficiently evaluating the impact of stimulants. 
 
—Journal Editorial Board

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