Pill-Poppers; How Abuse of “Uppers,” “Downers,” and Stimulants Threatens an Entire Generation

By Dr. Mercola

Far from being recognized for their potential health hazards, ADHD drugs have gained a reputation as “cognition enhancers” among students and young professionals. Narcotic painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs, and antidepressants are also notoriously overprescribed, which I’ll address below.

According to data from IMS Health,1 a whopping 48.4 million prescriptions for ADHD stimulants were written in 2011, up 39 percent from 2007. As reported by CNN Health:2

“Prescription ADHD medications like Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse are becoming increasingly popular for overworked and overscheduled college students — who haven’t been diagnosed with ADHD…

The numbers vary significantly by school, with the greatest proportion of users at private and ‘elite’ universities. Some researchers estimate about 30 percent of students use stimulants non-medically.3

‘When we look at upperclassmen, the number really begins to jump,’ says Alan DeSantis, professor of communications at the University of Kentucky who has conducted research on stimulant use in college. ‘The more time you stay on campus, the more likely you are to use.'”

ADHD Drugs Are Far from Harmless

One 2008 study,4 which interviewed 1,800 college students, reported that 81 percent of them perceived illicit use of ADHD drugs as being completely harmless, or only “slightly dangerous.”

This is despite the fact that these drugs are Schedule II substances5 — just like cocaine, methamphetamines, and morphine. As such, drugs like as Ritalin, Vyvanse, Strattera, and Adderall have very real health risks. Commonly reported short-term side effects include:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Restlessness
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Changes in sex drive

Accidental overdose and/or acute adverse effects are also quite possible, as recent statistics demonstrate. According to a report6 published just last year, ADHD drugs were responsible for nearly 23,000 emergency room visits in 2011.

This is a more than 400 percent increase in ER visits due to adverse reactions to ADHD medication in a mere six years.The increase was most dramatic among 18- to 25-year-olds. Far more serious adverse effects of ADHD drugs include:

Risks of Popular Anxiety Drugs Overshadowed by Opioid Epidemic


 Benzodiazepines, a class of anxiety drugs, are also widely overused, and a common source of drug addiction. As reported by NPR:8

“The drugs first burst onto the scene in the 1950s and ’60s and quickly became known as ‘mother’s little helper,’ the mild tranquilizer that could soothe frazzled housewives’ nerves. More than four decades later, benzos — including Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan — are used to treat anxiety, mood disorders and insomnia.

Dr. Michael Kelley, the medical director of the behavioral department at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, Maine, says he doesn’t go a single day without seeing somebody addicted to them…

‘They do produce a strong, physical dependence that can create life-threatening withdrawal seizures and other consequences, but I think that the perception that they’re harmful is low,’ he says.”

Even more disturbing, these drugs are frequently prescribed along with opiates—narcotic painkillers such as morphine, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl. Both benzodiazepines and opiates are sedatives that slow down your respiration, which can lead to death. This risk is greatly enhanced when these two drugs are mixed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),9 the combination of benzodiazepines and opioids accounts for about 30 percent of all opioid-related deaths, which claim an estimated 16,600 lives each year.10

Narcotic painkillers have now been officially identified as a major “gateway drug” to heroin, which is less expensive than its prescription counterparts. The US Justice Department has even declared that prescription opiates and heroin are two of the most lethal substances available today.

US Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced his office is taking steps to address America’s burgeoning drug problem head-on. This effort includes11 but is not limited to tracking drug overdose trends, educating health care professionals and the public about prescription drug abuse, and promoting programs shown to prevent such abuse. The federal government will also require manufacturers of extended-release and long-acting opioids to provide prescribers with educational programs explaining the risks and benefits of opioid therapy, and how to select appropriate candidates for such therapy.12



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