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Curtin research highlights concerns about the link between ADHD drug prescriptions and amphetamine use in WA

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New Curtin University research has raised the question of whether giving children and adults diagnosed with ADHD a daily dose of amphetamine type stimulants contributes to illicit amphetamine and other drug use by them and others.

The research published in Drug and Alcohol Review, reported that, in 2017, 3% of WA secondary school students self-reported using dexamphetamine for non-medical purposes, but only 1.2% were prescribed the drug. In addition, it found non-medical use of prescription amphetamine among WA secondary school students was the major component of their self-reported illicit amphetamine use.

Dr Martin Whitely, Research Fellow at the John Curtin Institute of Public Policy at Curtin University, said it was a concern that so many teenagers that had never been prescribed pharmaceutical amphetamines were taking them.

“It appears that many teenagers mistakenly think it is safe to take dexamphetamine, Ritalin and other ADHD stimulants because they are prescribed to children,” Dr Whitely said.

Article co-author Professor Steve Allsop, from the National Drug Research Institute, said given the potential for diversion, misuse and dependence that can arise from pharmaceutical stimulants, there is a need to further explore the relationship between prescribing stimulants and illicit amphetamine use.

“Illicit amphetamine use is clearly a significant issue and we have unique data sources on stimulant prescribing in WA that would enable further research into any possible links,” Professor Allsop said.

The research also found that after prescribing controls on paediatricians and psychiatrists were tightened in 2002, there was a sharp decline in WA stimulant prescribing to children and adolescents. This corresponded with a dramatic decrease in non-medical amphetamine use among 12-17 year olds.

However beginning in 2011 there has been a significant rebound in WA child and adolescent prescribing rates. In 2015 the last year for which detailed information on individual prescribers was published, one psychiatrist prescribed amphetamine type stimulants to 2,074 Western Australians diagnosed with ADHD.

Dr Whitely said prescribing accountability and reporting measures that were established by the Gallop Government had been relaxed since 2015, and he called for those measures to be reinstated.

“Young West Australians have told me that taking diverted ‘dexies’ (dexamphetamine) to binge drink, study, or skip sleep is common. We need to know if WA’s prescribing practices are contributing to this,” Dr Whitely said.

The research also found that since at least 2002, Western Australian (WA) adults have been far more likely to take amphetamine type stimulants for ADHD than other Australian adults, and WA adults have consistently been among the nation’s highest users of illicit amphetamine.

The paper, titled ‘Look West for Australian evidence of the relationship between Amphetamine Type Stimulant prescribing and Meth/amphetamine Use’ is available online here.

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