Psychostimulant and Nonstimulant Drugs

Drug therapy increased rapidly in the 1960’s, partly due to the DSM-II including hyperkinetic activity in childhood (LeFever, Arcona, & Antonuccio, 2003; National Institutes of Health, 1998). However, the use of stimulant medication to treat ADHD took off in 1963 when C. Keith Conners and Leon Eisenberg published a study on the effects of Ritalin (Methylphenidate) to a group of emotionally disturbed children (Conners & Eisenberg, 1963). The American medical profession decided Ritalin and other psychostimulants would be acceptable in treating symptoms of minimal brain dysfunction (MBD) and hyperactivity (LeFever et al., 2003). This was the main starting point that began the reliance on drug use to treat behavior problems and would increase over the next three decades.


Rapid increase in the prescription of psychostimulants

 In 1960, there were an estimated 50,00 children who were currently taking a prescribed psychostimulant. Within only 10 years, this number rose to 150,000 children and many researchers issued a warning about Ritalin being overprescribed (LeFever et al., 2003). This trend continued through the 1990’s. By that time, the use of psychostimulants had increased 700% (LeFever et al., 2003).

As of today, over 6 million children who are diagnosed with ADHD are being treated with psychostimulants such as Ritalin. 

This chart shows the U.S. as prescribing the highest amount of Ritalin. Additionally, over the years 2000, 2002, and 2004, Ritalin use has increased most rapidly in the United States. Image from

The above chart exemplifies this rapid increase just in the span of 4 years in the United States. Other countries prescribe no where near the amount we do in this country, but countries such as Germany and Japan see steady increases as well. This poses the question – Is there a rise in the diagnosis of ADHD or are psychostimulants being overprescribed?

A major turning point in getting many parents to recognize the possible overprescription of stimulants occurred in 1970. The Washington Post published a story entitled “Omaha Pupils Given ‘Behavior Drugs.’” This article said that 5-10% of parents in the town of Omaha were coerced into giving their children this drug to control their behavior (Mays, 2006). This article caused significant news coverage, despite percentage inaccuracies and the fact that parents were not actually coerced (Mays, 2006). Around this same time, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 was passed that changed Ritalin to a Schedule II medication (LeFever et al., 2003). 

This cartoon suggests amphetamines (Adderall or Ritalin) are just as dangerous as methamphetamines. However, there is a double standard because Adderall “treats” ADHD. Image from


Development of nonstimulant drugs to treat ADHD

 Although the use of stimulant medication to treat ADHD has been used for decades, there became a need for nonstimulant medication for those who could not handle the side effects of stimulant medication (Hanwella, Senanayake, & de Silva, 2011). In 2002, Strattera became the first non-stimulant medication to treat ADHD. It has no abuse potential unlike stimulant medication such as Adderall or Ritalin. However, Strattera (Atomoxetine) has side effect of its own, like nausea and insomnia (Hanwella et al., 2011).

Abuse of stimulant drugs on college campuses

In recent years, Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta have become increasingly popular among young adults in assisting them with their school work. Those who are not diagnosed with ADHD benefit from its effects and are able to perform better. Please watch the video below to learn more about the recent development of prescription stimulant abuse on college campuses.

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