Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are becoming the high of choice for county teens, according to a recent survey by Chesterfield SAFE, a nonprofit coalition dedicated to preventing substance abuse.
Every two years, SAFE surveys students in grades eight, 10 and 12 to track alcohol and drug trends among county youth.
The number of county 12thgraders who have used stimulants, narcotics, sedatives and tranquilizers within the 30 days prior to the survey is higher than the national average, according to the most recent survey.
About 8.5 percent of county high-school seniors used stimulants, such as Adderall, Ritalin or Dexedrine, without a doctor’s prescription, compared to only 3.7 percent nationally.
Stimulant use also grew among eighth- and 10th-graders. In 2010, only 1 percent of eighth-graders reported using stimulants within the past 30 days. By 2012, when the survey was last given, that number had more than doubled to 2.5 percent.
The numbers were similar among 10th-graders, with 4.5 percent of students admitting to using stimulants within the past 30 days in 2012 compared to only 2.3 percent in 2010.
Adderall, Ritalin and Dexedrine are stimulants commonly prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and related conditions. As the name implies, stimulants boost alertness, attention and energy. When used by those with ADHD, these drugs can be life- changing. However, in recent years, they have gained favor among college kids who use them illegally to help with studying. That trend is trickling down to those in high school.
“We are thinking that a lot of the kids who are doing this are the kids you wouldn’t think would be doing this,” said Sharyl Adams, substance abuse prevention specialist with Chesterfield County Youth Planning and Development and SAFE. “Some do it just because they like the way it makes them feel, but some are doing it because they believe it will help them do better in school. Some of them think they have to do this because it gives them an edge.”
Richard Grosse, licensed clinical social worker with Dominion Behavioral Healthcare in North Chesterfield, manages two substance abuse therapy groups for teens. Stimulant use is a common topic among his clients, he said.
“Kids talk about it all the time – using it and stealing it – and it is becoming more abused,” Grosse said. “I didn’t see that 10 years ago, but I see it now.
“By and large it’s used by people who are procrastinating, don’t have the best study skills and are using it to catch up. It’s like an aid now; it’s something to help you manage your life versus a drug to help manage a disorder.”
Past-30-day-use of sedatives and tranquilizers among county 12th-graders is double the national average.
In Chesterfield, 4.3 percent of high-school seniors reported using sedatives, such as Lunesta and Ambien, without a prescription during the past 30 days, compared to 1.8 percent nationally. About 4.7 percent of 12thgraders admitted using tranquilizers (Valium, Xanax, Klonopin and others) during the 30- day period prior to the survey, compared to 2.3 percent nationally.
Prescription narcotics (OxyContin, morphine, codeine, Vicodin, Percocet and others) use among Chesterfield seniors is higher than the national average – 5.6 percent versus 3.6 percent, respectively.